Available this coming week on DVD, “Haywire” has a number of features that are, well, haywire, most prominently its structure. Director (and cinematographer and film editor) Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Lem Dobbs keep us guessing and, at times, frustrated as to just what is going on. This action movie includes long stretches where not much happens: not only does nobody make any dramatic moves, they don’t even say very much. In one dinner scene, the intermittent conversation is broken by the sound of someone swallowing.
One of the parties to this subdued chat is the film’s heroine, black ops specialist Mallory Kane, played by actual martial arts fighter Gina Carano, whose only previous film credit is “Blood and Bone.” (She’s also in video games, which may tell you all you need to know about her.) As an actor, Kane is not all that bad, as long as she only has a line or two of dialogue; after that, her delivery gets literally monotonous in a hurry. As a fighter, though, she can and does kick some serious butt, thoroughly and often.
Among the kickees are some well-known male actors, including Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbinder, and (implicitly) Antonio Banderas, who gets the film’s best and final line. Soderbergh has gotten stars to take smaller roles before, notably in “Traffic” (2000) for which he won the Oscar for Best Director, and in the popular “Ocean’s” series (11, 12, and 13). Michael Douglas and Bill Paxton have almost cameo roles, but at least they escape with their dignity intact.
However, all the men become somewhat lost in the shuffle, since Mallory is the center of the action and attention. When we meet her at a diner in Upstate New York, she immediately gets into a fight, hijacks a car and its clueless owner (Michael Angarano, who provides some needed comic relief), and leads the state police on a merry chase, which concludes when a deer crashes through the window—the back window. And this is one of the quieter bits.
The chase itself is broken up into segments by flashbacks which purport to explain how she got into this fix. The gimmick is that Mallory is telling her befuddled young passenger what has happened, so that he can tell the authorities. Her story takes us to, among other places, Dublin, Barcelona, San Diego, and the New Mexico desert. Soderbergh gives us enough glimpses of the landscapes to establish a sense of place, in much the way that we glimpse them in the Bond or Bourne series.
These films provide a frame of reference for the viewer, who has to hang on in hopes that eventually all the skullduggery, backstabbing, double-crossing, kick-boxing, and general mayhem will make sense, at least as much as movies in this genre do. Don’t get your hopes up, though: Soderbergh does have one character attempt to clear things up toward the end, but by that time I had given up.
Not to say all this isn’t enjoyable, in an escapist sorta way; it is, and the technical mastery pleases throughout, especially the attention to small details, not usually the strong suit of action thrillers. The film is appropriately rated “R” for violence and language; nobody has much leisure time for sex or drugs.