Review: “Haywire” is a Knockout

Having proven it's possible to make a smart, funny and engaging heist films, Steven Soderbergh has now set his sights on the spy thriller, but this time he's made things harder still on himself. Instead of rallying his matinee idol posse of friends, this time he's taken an acting novice, MMA star Gina Carano, and made her a movie star.

"Haywire" stars Carano as Mallory Kane, an ex-marine now working as a soldier-for-hire, who is contracted to rescue a hostage, only to be double-crossed, leaving her no choice but to hunt down the men who flipped on her.

Carano is movie-star sexy, and watching her throw a beatdown is made all the more satisfying by the fact that she's a real-life ass-kicking machine. She's running up walls, throwing flying kicks, choking guys out with her thighs…it's quite impressive. And she's far better an actress than you might reasonably expect. Does Meryl Streep need to worry about her place in history? No. But Carano shows more than enough talent and charisma to make "Haywire" work.

Soderbergh didn't completely forget his famous friends, however, surrounded Carano with the likes of Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas - each of them playing a distinct flavor of bad news.

But with all due respect to Carano, this is Soderbergh's film from beginning to end. During all the nonsensical talk about his alleged retirement, he's talked about being a formalist, as a opposed to a storyteller, and here he takes a totally different approach to the spy action film, crafting an anti-"Bourne."

Many of the fights are jarringly spare, with no quick cuts or music or sound effects—just two people punch the hell out of each other in real time. Watching these battles is reminiscent of seeing a sitcom without a laugh track or studio audience—once you adjust to the absence of enhancement; you realize that those bells and whistles often deaden the impact of what's on the screen.

Soderbergh also stages a hostage rescue, shoot-out and ensuing chase with zero dialogue. For 10 minutes you hear nothing but the soundtrack, the pop of guns and heavy breathing—it's gripping.

Soderbergh claims that he can't imagine doing another action film, which is a shame, but with "Haywire" he managed to breath new life into the genre, and launched one hell of a franchise with a new kind of hero, if he and Carano are up for it.

"Haywire" opens everywhere Friday, January 20th

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