Just what we need—another violent comic-book fantasy about another covert government operative (a catchphrase that describes just about everybody in escapist-action franchise movies from incoherent Tom Cruise Mission Impossible flicks to Jason Bourne cinematic Xeroxes with Matt Damon).This one is called Haywire. The only difference is that this time the battering ram doing all the kickboxing, slicing, and killing is a woman, more or less played, since she cannot act, by Kung Fu expert, karate specialist, martial arts star and Angelina Jolie-wannabe Gina Carano. She’s a female MMA fighter who was defeated in 2009 by Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos in the Strikeforce Women’s Championship, whatever that is. The men she beats the crap out of are an all-star bevy of camera-ready hunks baring their pecks in faceless roles to sell tickets. They are wasting their time, but boy do we need them. It is doubtful that the box-office flame exuded by Carano on her own could draw moths.
Haywire makes no sense whatsoever, which should come as no surprise. It’s the latest brainless exercise in self-indulgence from Steven Soderbergh, whose films rarely make any sense anyway. (I liked Erin Brockovich, but I now think it was a fluke that will never come again.) Any director who wastes valuable time watching female mixed martial arts instead of learning how to make better movies has lost me already. In the opening scene, Aaron (Channing Tatum) walks into a roadside diner in upstate New York and smacks the living daylights out of a woman named Mallory Kane (Carano with more muscles than charm). Naturally, she turns the tables and leaves him unconscious, steals a car belonging to a mind-blown young man named Scott (Michael Angarano), and drives away. Screeching and careening through the snow, she relates everything that happened to her as Scott works hard to keep from screaming before he’s excised from the movie and never seen again.
Cut to Washington, D.C. where Kenneth (the overexposed Ewan McGregor) is instructed by boss Michael Douglas to eliminate the two-fisted Mallory. Flashback even farther to Barcelona, where she and Aaron were once lovers on a hostage-rescue mission, before she discovered she was marked for assassination. In Dublin, while tracking down a Chinese nationalist, she poses as the wife of another secret agent, played with typical out-of-the-shower tight-towel nakedness by gym-pumped Michael Fassbender, but instead of taking her to bed he tries to take her out. In retaliation, she chokes him with thighs like sandbags in Hurricane Katrina and fires a bullet through his handsome head.
Trying to figure out why she’s been betrayed in an interminable series of splat-crack-pow scenes, she turns into a rogue agent, throwing herself off rooftops, smashing through plate-glass windows, leaping from one building to another, bouncing off walls and kicking a lot of groins. It all ends up back in the present, at the elegant New Mexico home of her father, a former Marine turned best-selling author, curiously played by the sturdy and dependable Bill Paxton, who is very good, very brief and very much reduced to the status of a walk-on. Surprise! The anonymous killers and thugs show up, and there’s more fighting to come as she demolishes a lot of beautiful furniture and marvelous architecture, heading for one last showdown with one final master criminal (Antonio Banderas, unrecognizable behind a bushy mouse-gray beard). One can only wonder what Soderbergh paid so many first-cabin alpha males to make fools of themselves in this piece of junk.
The leapfrog settings across two continents are more eloquent than anything in the dumb, sophomoric script by Lem Dobbs, who also wrote the screenplay for Soderbergh’s pretentious and unwatchable Kafka. You realize early that nobody connected with Haywire has any interest in coherent narrative filmmaking. The movie is nothing more than a locker-room joke. Nothing resembling plot, character development or a star-making career move of any kind is anywhere apparent. The whole point of this time-wasting farrago of idiocy is that women can cut, kick, slash, burn, maim and kill just like men—and make bad movies that are just as stupid. Soderbergh doesn’t even try to guide his unknown, inexperienced leading lady from the fight ring to the acting arena. He just cranks up the camera and lets her punch herself catatonic. Maybe it’s the role she’s playing, but Carano has all the charisma of a Sherman tank.
Haywire (R) ★☆☆☆☆