There is a great scene in "Haywire" where Mallory (Gina Carano) is walking down a street and she knows she is being followed. Director Steven Soderbergh doesn't falter from her every step, studying her face. He follows her not letting the camera miss a beat. The tension this builds as we get a quick cut across the street to see a man clearly walking in stride with our heroine. We see a car pull slowly up beside her, pass her, still slowing. It is the perfect encapsulation of how an audience should be made to feel when in a high stakes game of spy vs. spy. As I said in my September review of Soderbergh's "Contagion" I have not seen as many of his smaller films such as "Che" and I never was able to finish "Solaris", but whether he be making heist capers like the Ocean's series, political farces like "The Informant" or the disaster move as some called "Contagion" they are at least all credible films in their respected genres. Soderbergh has found his niche in being versatile and he expands that taste for variety into the action genre in "Haywire". While the story plays as a mash up of movies we have all seen before it is the artistic liberties Soderbergh takes with the material that make it more entertaining than this would have been in lesser hands. There is a zip, bang, bam tone to the film while at times it feels almost subtle in the ways with which it approaches the genre's more cliched aspects. At an hour and a half it zooms by, not allowing the audience to stop and wonder what is going on despite the tangled web of a plot. This is good, mind-numbing fun; the kind of action pic that makes "Contraband" look like the generic film it is.

Malory (Gina Carano) takes out Aaron (Channing Tatum)
after he tries to hard to make her come with him...
When we first come across Mallory we are at an upstate New York cafe. It is clear she is hiding, but from what we don't know. Soon, Aaron (Channing Tatum) arrives and is set to bring her in, but of course Mallory knows better and does not plan on following orders. This disagreement leads to the explosive first fight scene in the film where Mallory takes on Aaron and coolly lays him out escaping the cafe with an innocent bystander who tried to help her out. After snagging Jacob (Michael Angarano) from the cafe and taking him and his car we begin to hear the story unfold as Mallory relays to Jacob how she has come to be in her current predicament. It is evident from the opening sequence Mallory is a highly trained operative of some kind. We learn she works for a type of government agency with a private contractor and after having gone on a recent mission to Berlin. She freed a Chinese journalist who was being held hostage and returned home but was immediately summoned for another job that led to her being double crossed by someone close to her. There is a buffet of strong supporting players here including Ewan McGregor as Kenneth, Mallory's boss and ex-boyfriend. Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas show up in a few scenes as a government officer high up on the chain of command and the mysterious Ramon. Bill Paxton pops up in a few scenes as Mallory's dad and Michael Fassbender as the agent hired to dispose of her makes his bid for the next Bond actor. While we watch as Mallory goes toe to toe with every man she encounters the story boils down to a why did they do it that is easily enough solved and not at all surprising. It sure as hell is a fun ride getting there though.

British secret agent Paul (Michael Fassbender) could
learn a few things from Mallory.
Despite so many big names, the real star here is Carano and though this role doesn't require a whole lot of range from the newly minted actress she is the perfect fit for a woman an audience will believe can actually take on anyone thrown her direction and win. That is what the movie is all about after all isn't it? I mean, to watch Mallory chase down a loose end through the streets of Berlin just to run up a wall and send him swiftly under a garage-like door, or my favorite brawl of the film, the bedroom dance of a duel that her and Fassbender display is pure kineticism. The last great action flick I saw was "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" but where that was a high octane, flashy piece of big budget entertainment this is a low key and brutal revenge actioner. Carano is a former mixed-martial arts fighter and while as her popularity grows she will surely be offered more roles that require more than just kicking-butt I'm not going to fret over whether or not her acting abilities will rise with that level of requirement. She serves the purpose of her character here. Mallory is a reclusive woman who likes to do as she is assigned and be done with no connections to anything or anyone left behind. Soderbergh knew what he was doing in building a film around Carano and in completing this he has conquered another genre in ways that deny to succumb to the standards. In the end you may not be as riveted by the plot as you might have come to expect from an indie filmmaker like Soderbergh but you will certainly feel revved up by the fast, strong and intelligent character that anchors this film.

Coblenz (Michael Douglas) gives Mallory a few leads as to
where to fins the man who betrayed her.
There have been plenty of films over the past few years that have centered around a strong female lead in the middle of an action film. Whether it be the Resident Evil and Underworld films, Angelina Jolie in "Wanted" and "Salt" or one of my personal favorites from last year, "Hanna". The trend won't stop this year either with "The Hunger Games" and "Brave" coming out, but these kinds of movies where the makers think they are turning the genre on its head by simply changing the sex of the character no longer makes this something different. We, as an audience, require more innovation than this and despite following the rules of the genre Soderbergh is able to, at the same time, make this double as a kind of sly thriller. He saturates his characters with actors who with their credibility can play up the stock roles they have been assigned and turn this into a piece of action pulp. I was really looking forward to "Haywire" as it promised to be exactly what the genre was lacking and that was genuine excitement. Not only was this a literal edge of your seat kind of movie, but it makes a general, wide audience appreciate the quirks of smaller films while delivering everything they want from a good action movie. I don't know if there is anything Soderbergh can't do and it not turn out to be at least a charming effort. I guess we'll find out this summer when he extends his ever-searching eye to the genre of broad comedy with "Magic Mike".

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