Gina Carano is for real.
The 27-year-old mixed martial artist and bit actress (BLOOD AND BONE) plays her first leading role in HAYWIRE, a low-budget trifle churned out by director Steven Soderbergh (OCEAN’S 11) in Ireland, Spain, and New Mexico. As an actress, the brunette easily holds her own opposite steely veterans like Michael Fassbender (INGLORIOUS BASTERDS) and Michael Douglas (WALL STREET), and as an action star, Carano has few peers of either the male or female variety.
As if acknowledging the wafer-thin nature of the plot dreamed up by screenwriter Lem Dobbs (THE LIMEY), Soderbergh tries to juice it up with non-linear storytelling with flashbacks, silent sequences, and shifts to black and white. He needn’t have, because HAYWIRE is at its best when Soderbergh (who, as usual, worked as his own cinematographer) plants the camera and lets his performers do their work.
Carano is cast as Mallory Kane, an ex-Marine now working as an operative for a private security company run by Kenneth (Ewan McGregor), her former lover. Although she has just returned from a mission in Barcelona rescuing a Chinese journalist, Kenneth goads Mallory into a quick weekend job in Dublin acting primarily as eye candy on the arm of MI-6 agent Paul (Fassbender). After poking around the edges of her assigned milk run, she quickly learns she has been led into a trap that has law enforcement on her back and unjustified murder charges on her head.
HAYWIRE is a revenge tale, pure and simple, and when Soderbergh keeps it simple, it really rocks. Eschewing contemporary trends of quick cutting and shaky handheld shots, Soderbergh knows there’s little he can do to make Carano look badass that she can’t do better. Choreographed by stunt ace J.J. Perry, the fight scenes are rough, brutal, and made devastatingly real by Carano. Even so, HAYWIRE’s best setpiece is a foot chase over Dublin rooftops and through a labyrinth of hotel hallways in which Carano is clearly doing her own stunts without help from the visual effects department. Dobbs could have laced the screenplay with a more liberal dose of humor, as Carano’s unexpected run-in with a deer provides a chuckle right when the film needs one.
As for Carano’s acting, she’s just fine. Frankly, she’s a better actor than Channing Tatum (21 JUMP STREET), here playing a fellow operative with whom she has a quick affair, and certainly more believable in her role than Tatum is in his. Stripped down to about ninety minutes and containing enough buff action to keep it from dragging, HAYWIRE is more pretentious than it should be, but a strong debut for Carano.