Casting for Steven Soderbergh’s latest film, Haywire must’ve started with an all-star poker match. Inviting talents like Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Michael Fassbender, and Ewan McGregor for beer and gambling, the director, confident with his hand, decided to raise the ante. “How about we make this interesting? Relativity Media dumped me with a script. It’s written by Lem Dobbs, he’s nobody really. It’s basically the Bourne series, but with a sexy female lead. So, let’s say, if I win this round, you’ll all have to star. Sound fair?” Too much booze and a bad bet are the only explanations for the talent attached to this embarrassment.
Through its entirety, I couldn’t shake the feeling I was watching a well-financed student film. With its dated score and amateur editing, Haywire looks and sounds like something crapped out the bowels of The New York Film Academy. And although it’s Soderbergh “paying homage” to B-movie schlock, the work’s lack of innovation — aesthetically and narratively — make it just that: Cinema you’d find buried beneath James Bond cassettes at your local rental shop, circa the 1980s.
And while shipping the fight sequences without underlying scores adds rawness to the action, much of post-production was spent on hounding the crew to haphazardly juxtapose color and black-and-white. It’s an awkward strategy meant for atmospheric purposes. That’s not to mention the musical selections, which sound like the preset loops packaged in with popular editing software.
But, at the heart of the iPhone-quality images (damned by piss poor lighting) and sparse gunplay, there’s a decently entertaining storyline, despite it being hard to follow at spots. Haywire chronicles tough-as-nails black ops soldier Mallory Kane (played by MMA superstar Gina Carano), who, after botched missions in Dublin and Barcelona, is betrayed by her handler Kenneth (McGregor), must escape an international manhunt while exacting revenge on those who’ve burned her. Douglas stars as a government employee, whilst Fassbender, Banderas, and Tatum, play a dirty British agent, an official contact, and Kane’s former partner, respectively.
Apart from being predictable and some wonky interplay, there isn’t anything too troubling plot-wise. There’s a beginning, middle, and end — much more than should be asked for during the black-hole month of January. The only real dead-end Dobbs wrote into the movie was to include Scott (Michael Angarano), a random schmuck who’s carjacked by Mallory and forced to listen to her war stories. Notwithstanding a vague explanation of Kane’s intention whilst sharing her deepest secrets with him, the character serves almost no purpose and could’ve easily been cut.
Nevertheless, Carano is, surprisingly, a decent actress. Some of her lines come off stiff, but her charisma stems from the fact that she’s kicking the jollies out of Hollywood’s macho-men. And, for a professional fighter, she’s incredibly attractive — likely explaining her male counterparts’ willingness to submit to her. But, still on the men, there aren’t any memorable performances in that department. Even Fassbender and McGregor, two of my favorite performers, are disgustingly average.
It’s a shame considering that I, leading to the film’s release and for the majority of its running-time, desperately tried to enjoy Haywire. And so it remains a mystery as to why Soderbergh, usually regarded as the go-to guy for indie actioners, let it all go, well, haywire.