“The motives are strictly professional?” asks Paul, a debonair contract killer (Michael Fassbender). “The motive is money,” responds an incredulous Kenneth (Ewan McGregor), the slippery manipulator behind a shadowy black-ops company. “The motive is always money.”
Well, at least there is a motive for Haywire’s convoluted plot, which unreels in reverse, as well as for director Steven Soderbergh. A grimly stylish action-thriller with a Bourne girl instead of a Bond girl, Haywire showcases the prowess of mixed-marital-arts personality Gina Carano, and not much else. Playing a contract killer named Mallory, who is in for the lifestyle and not the money (if there’s a difference, you won’t find it in this movie), Carano definitely has the moves. If her acting is on a par with her role on American Gladiators, Soderbergh doesn’t seem to notice: He’s too busy using his rigorously no-frills mise-en-scène to highlight Carano’s lethal femininity.
The film opens with a sustained and uninteresting close-up of Carano (who resembles the young Pricilla Presley, only coarser), as Mallory sits impassively in a diner in rural New York. Eventually, she is joined by an untrustworthy cohort (Channing Tatum), who gets the worst of it when the fists and feet start flying. Carano is obviously the real thing when it comes to martial artistry, and the film’s fight scenes—brutally unadorned hand-to-hand, and heel-to-head, combat sequences—are about as authentic as you’ll see in a movie about a woman who turns muscular opponents into crumpled pulp. The plot is basically a series of fights interspersed with the machinations of a shadowy client (Antonio Banderas), a powerful government operative (Michael Douglas), and Kenneth, who all seem to be engaged in espionage risk leveraging.
While escaping from the diner with a bystander, Mallory’s recent past is shown in flashbacks: On a job in Barcelona extracting a Chinese somebody or other, Mallory was double-crossed by her employer, though she doesn’t know why. Trusting only her father (Bill Paxton), she does, however, accept a job in Dublin with an Irish assassin, which Soderbergh uses for a sequence of ultra-violent eroticism. Despite the multi-country settings, the focus is kept claustrophobically tight on Carano, who plays Mallory as a coolly practical fatale—minus any angst or compelling personality. Mallory’s reactions are so businesslike that it’s hard to care what happens to her, even as one lover after another betrays her. Though Carano’s physical abilities are impressive, it’s not enough to carry a movie.