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"HAYWIRE"
(2012) (Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Action: After being set up by her handlers, a covert operative seeks out revenge on those who've wronged her.
PLOT:
In an upstate New York diner, Mallory Kane (GINA CARANO) isn't happy to see the arrival of Aaron (CHANNING TATUM), her former business partner and lover. And that's because he's there to take her back to their handler, Kenneth (EWAN McGREGOR), something she isn't keen to. Accordingly, when he suddenly attacks her, she uses her physical skills -- and a little assistance from shocked bystander Scott (MICHAEL ANGARANO) -- to defeat Aaron and flee the scene.

Traveling in Scott's car, she then relates her tale to him. A former Marine turned highly trained operative for hire, she worked for private contractor Kenneth who had a business arrangement with a U.S. government official, Coblenz (MICHAEL DOUGLAS) in conjunction with a nebulous figure, Rodrigo (ANTONIO BANDERAS). After rescuing a hostage with Aaron and others, she was assigned to work with Paul (MICHAEL FASSBENDER), but quickly learned that her decision to leave Kenneth had it repercussions.

Now back in the States, she wants revenge on those who wronged her. With the help of Scott as well as her ex-Marine turned novelist father John (BILL PAXTON), she sets out to do just that.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
I have no idea if anyone says this anymore, but when I was growing up -- gasp, nearly half a century ago! -- there was the old nursery rhyme about what boys and girls were made of. For the former, it was "frogs and snails and puppy-dogs' tails," while the latter were comprised of "sugar and spice and everything nice." I remember the girls seeming to enjoy that disparity and be proud of their superior -- or at least more savory -- ingredients, but after the "You've come a long way, baby" generation, I'm guessing many ladies don't mind a little toughness associated with them.

That said, it's still shocking for many people of either gender to see a woman being hit by a man or, conversely, doling out the punishment on those sporting the XY chromosomal pair. Such was the case at our recent screening of "Haywire," director Steven Soderbergh's latest film that opens in an upstate New York diner. There, after some brief chatting, the character played by Channing Tatum throws a cup of coffee into the face of a woman played by Gina Carano, smashes the mug to her (facial) mug, knocks her to the floor, picks her up by her hair, slams her body to the hard floor and proceeds to pummel her face with his fist (among other blows).

For those who didn't watch the first five minutes of the film free online, it's a somewhat shocking and even graphic assault. But the covert operative played by Carano then turns the tables and proceeds to beat the living daylights out of her attacker, thus making one forget about the sugar, spice and everything nice bit. She then takes off with a shocked bystander (Michael Angarano) who briefly helped save her life and then gets to hear what's lead up to that moment, with us then seeing the same in flashback.

The pic has been getting generally favorable reviews from both male and female critics, but methinks that's gender based. For many guys, there's something inherently sexually appealing about an attractive woman who's physically capable of going toe-to-toe with any man, while the ladies like to see a powerful woman who can defend herself from anyone and might just be projecting some wishful role modeling into the character. Thus the appeal, to varying degrees, of past butt-kicking femmes played by the likes of Angelina Jolie and Kate Beckinsale.

There's certainly no denying that Carano -- a professional trained mixed martial arts fighter -- is a very attractive woman, toned yet curvy to near perfection as compared to the waifs Hollywood usually thrusts out as physical role models. And while Jolie and Beckinsale had the help of rapid editing, special effects and likely stunt doubles to achieve their effect, there's little doubt to the eyes or mind that Carano is capable of doing what's shown on the screen.

It's just too bad the film and especially its story isn't better. Sure, Soderbergh delivers his usual artistic flair, including various visual looks and accompanying jazzy score. But -- and despite the gender switch from the norm -- how many times have we seen a film where some sort of covert operative is double-crossed by his (or her) handlers and then sets forth to get some medieval comeuppance on them?

In terms of plot -- as penned by Lem Dobbs -- there simply isn't anything here we haven't seen before, and the script doesn't provide the young actress much of a chance to emote more than a "tough chick" persona. Granted, the fact that she's so good at doing just that -- and in scenes with little editing and no traditional score used to amp up the proceedings -- goes a long way in making those scenes entertaining (as long as you don't mind the violence). And when Carano kicks, punches and more into action, the visceral thrills are firing on all cylinders.

In the downtime, however, it's just more of the same old, same old, albeit with recognizable names and faces playing the various characters in her immediate universe. They include Ewan McGregor as her boss and, apparently, former lover; the aforementioned Tatum as her former partner and definite lover; Antonio Banderas as a client needing her services; Michael Fassbender as another operative she's teamed with; Bill Paxton as her ex-Marine turned novelist father; and Michael Douglas as a government man whose allegiance to her is nebulous at best.

So, part of the film is told in flashback as the operative on the run and her shocked bystander drive away from the first scene, with the third act taking place in the present. All are designed as slow burn moments leading up to the explosive moments of action. While the former vary in their levels of success as that, I just wish they were as interesting and engaging.

In the end, Carano sort of ends up like Meryl Streep in the just released "The Iron Lady." Both are really good at what they do and one could simply sit and stare at their display of talent, but they desperately need a better film in which to wrap and showcase their stuff. Decent, but not original enough to match Carano's big screen debut and her extra bold version of sugar, spice and all things nice, "Haywire" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.




Reviewed January 17, 2012 / Posted January 20, 2012


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