Friday, 20 January 2012

Movies - Haywire review


Review Scoring Chart - 10: Masterpiece; 9: Outstanding; 8: Very Good; 7: Good; 6: Above Average; 5: Average; 4: Below Average; 3: Bad; 2: Awful; 1: Reprehensible; 0: Non- Functional.

Dir: Steven Soderbergh
Stars: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Antonio Banderas
Running Time: 93mins

[A version of this article was originally published on Flixist]

Watching Gina Carano beat the snot out of Michael Fassbender before kicking him through a glass door is weirdly arousing, and since director Steven Soderbergh's movie is largely based around providing Carano a stage for assaulting famous actors in a variety of brutal ways, this should have been a film to rock my proverbial boat.

Unfortunately, 'should' turns out to be the operative word, because Soderbergh was obviously so enraptured with his man-destroying star that he forgot to build the rest of the movie she should have been starring in. It's certainly a showcase, but mainly because Carano is working so hard to keep the movie from sinking due to the woeful lack of effort by anyone else involved.
It's difficult to work out exactly what Soderbergh was hoping to achieve with Haywire. As a vehicle for Carano, she's given the bare minimum to do. She sends a litany of men to their deaths in ways most can only dream of, which is fun for a time but soon becomes repetitive once it becomes clear she is never going to be placed in any real danger. She faces off against one or two people at a time and rarely takes more than a few seconds to dispatch them. Carano's moves may be spectacular, but feel wasted when pitted against such menial opposition.

She's hardly a woman who needs protection, but the story seems to be operating under the mistaken belief that she'll look stronger if all her battles seem easy. What the movie needs are some ten minute fight scenes where Carano (playing a character called Mallory Kane, but that's almost incidental - there is no such thing as a 'character' in Haywire) is pushed to her physical limits and forced to bring out her full bone-crunching repertoire to succeed, emerging bloodied but proud. Instead, she slaps Ewan McGregor around on a beach for a bit. No offence intended to the man, but I doubt anyone has ever been pushed to their physical limits in any respect by Ewan McGregor.

That casual approach extends to every aspect of the film, sucking dry any sense of momentum or excitement. Soderbergh's camera follows Carano like a love-struck puppy, but prefers to sit back and watch than engage when she gets her ass-kicking on. That does mean no shaky-cam, thank god, but also that even her relentless MMA fighting style has to do twice as much work to generate half as much excitement. Being unintrusive is one thing: while it is admittedly a relief to watch a fight scene where the combatants' entire bodies and every move are visible, those pleasures are soon lost in the camera just seemingly not wanting to be involved in any way.

Most of the fight scenes go without music, which doesn't help the flat direction, but is a plus in that the score is distractingly anachronistic whenever it does decide to participate. Much of it sounds like incidental music from a Sixties TV spy series, the sort of thing that would play when the hero is making an initial investigation before getting into any real danger. When Carano's character should be feeling dynamic and deadly, the score is playing something more appropriate for a kitsch escapade from The Man From U.N.C.L.E.'s later seasons - you know, the ones that had Robert Vaughan dancing with gorillas and the like. A rooftop chase with Carano (wearing a natty beige knitwear cap) being pursued by a heavily armed SWAT team is rendered inert by composer David Holmes' refusal to rise to the occasion.

The worst culprit of all, though, is Lem Dobb's screenplay, which is minimal to the point of barely existing. A jumbled chronology serves no purpose other than to give Soderbergh the chance to use differently coloured lens filters to differentiate between scenes in the past and present (a perfunctory nod to his reputation as visual stylist), but everything else is insultingly by-the-book. Job gone wrong, deadly ex-marine betrayed, revenge, people to kill, blah blah. There is not a single twist or subversion of expectations, just the systematic delivery of overused action tropes until all the requisite villains have been dispatched and the movie just... stops.

It's a struggle to come up with anything good to say about the movie other than Carano, who is wasted in such a half-hearted effort. She's a destructive juggernaut of a woman, deserving to be the centre of something big, brash and worthy of a high-octane title like Haywire. Instead, Soderbergh takes this sexily terrifying superstar-in-the-making (yes, her line delivery can be monotonous, but it's her martial arts that do the real talking), gives her next to nothing to do and is content to just leave the camera running roughly in her direction. If even Carano couldn't re-energise the director's recent slump in form, he might as well make good on those oft-stated retirement plans. [ 4 ]


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