Jeff Smith 11:30 a.m., Aug. 30
Steven Soderbergh made it clear: upon completing three more movies, the 49-year-old director intends to walk away from filmmaking. (He will instead devote his artistic attention to painting.) After watching Haywire, either Soderbergh was hit by a sudden case of "senioritis," or he decided to take an early retirement.
Soderbergh's latest attempt to (at least according to the press material) turn "audience's expectations on their heads" by subverting popular genre expectations, results in an adequate female 007 action/adventure picture. What makes this easier to swallow than the average Angelina Jolie outing are the expertly staged fight sequences and a brisk running time. (Even at 93 minutes this could have used a trim.)
Haywire went before the cameras almost two years ago. Contagion, completed after Haywire, came and went before this hit screens. An action film signed by a name director, shelved, and later assigned a mid-January opening does not bode well.
Having successfully managed to extricate a credible performance as a high-class call girl out of porn sensation Sasha Grey (The Girlfriend Experience), Soderbergh chose real-life mixed martial arts champion, Gina Carano, to play private-sector operative gone rogue, Mallory Kane. (The director joked, "I knew there had to be a woman other than Angelina Jolie who could run around with a gun.") She is assigned the task of freeing a Chinese journalist held hostage in Barcelona. When the writer turns up dead, all fingers point to Mallory as the prime suspect. What else is new?
Carano has the tough, tight look, and smoldering dispassion the genre demands, but not even Meryl Streep could add depth to what isn't there. The most exciting prospect of Haywire was the director reuniting with screenwriter Lem Dobbs, author of The Limey (still Soderbergh's finest hour as far as I'm concerned). They manage to capture the look and feel of '70's international espionage films, but not unlike what The Artist is to silent cinema, there is not much going on beneath the surface of Haywire.
Gina Carano and Channing Tatum.
Action set-pieces are lifted from other films: there's the obligatory confrontation in a diner reminiscent of Superman II, Unstoppable, Pulp Fiction, and countless more. This scene, and one other, benefits from the element of surprise. In each case, Soderbergh quiets the mood just long enough for one of the male antagonists to sandbag Mallory from behind, forcing our anything but poor, defenseless heroine to retaliate. It left the audience "Ooohing" and Aaahhing" louder than the crowd at a Price is Right taping just after a cubic zirconia tiara (from Dicker and Dicker of Beverly Hills) was wheeled center-stage.
Mallory sends her best duds in to be dry-cleaned so that she may team up with tuxedo-clad rake, Michael Fassbender and further hammer home the Jolie-association with a brief lift from Mr. and Mrs. Smith. The rest of the all-male cast of box office names includes Michael Douglas (apparently phoning in a favor for a friend), Antonio Banderas (sporting Gabby Hayes whiskers), Bill Paxton as Mallory's vigilant father, and the always-unremarkable Ewan McGregor, this time doing his best to act from under a terrible haircut.
Michael Angarano, an impartial witness and willing hostage, is on board to act as a pipeline through which Mallory can pump backstory, sort of like Juno's function in Inception. Surprisingly, Channing Tatum leads the pack actually showing a little range as Mallory's casual sex partner-turned-aggressor.
Gina Carano and Michael Fassbender as Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
Because the gun is in the hand of a woman does not automatically qualify this as a female-empowering saga. Malloy is a lady Rambo (Rambette?) going through the same motions as many a male counterpart before her. Soderbergh was set to bring back small-screen secret agent Napoleon Solo until leading man George Clooney had to bow out. This is hopefully the closest we'll get to Soderbergh crying U.N.C.L.E.
Reader Rating: Two Stars
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