Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 20, 2012 5:37 pm 
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GINA CARANO IN HAYWIRE

Cold, incomprehensible actioner in love with its own hipness

Haywire focuses on a female black ops specialist who gets inexplicably double-crossed. This premise leads to an economically staged series of confrontations, chases, capers, and hand-to-hand battles attractively shot on location in Spain, Ireland, and the United States. Despite their adeptness these sequences very soon begin to drag, however, because we don't really know what's going on. The action may serve little ultimate purpose except to show how cut off from the audience Steven Soderbergh can be sometimes. And this becomes a further example, if one was needed, of why the Bourne movies work and ersatz versions missing the essential Bourne elements don't. The title Haywire suggests a madcap Sixties caper mood that is quite lacking. If fact this movie is soulless and numbing.

As Mallory Kane, the lead character, Soderbergh has used Gina Carano, a mixed martial arts specialist and American Gladiators competitor who has never acted before. She is pretty in a busty, lock-jawed, faintly Julia Stiles-ish kind of way and in the fights she's fine. But when it comes to acting she's a zero. With her a series of good and one or two not-so-good actors get to do nothing much, perhaps so as not to make Ms. Carano look too bad. Her best partner is Channing Tatum as Aaron, one of her colleagues, who is, as usual, bull-necked and lumpish, and so a good match for the female lead.

The movie's opening, a road house brawl between Mallory and Aaron, seems to have grindhouse roots that promise gutsy action. This scene is inarticulate, but dimly partakes of the immortal diner sequence in Pulp Fiction. (If there is a Tarantino influence, though, it's ill used.) When Aaron is down for the count, Mallory runs off with a young man called Scott whose car she commandeers. This gives the sympathetic but underused Michael Angarino, who plays the baffled and thrilled Scott, a brief sequence to shine in.

This frantic drive in Scott's car with cops soon in pursuit and followed up by evil agents posing as feds is used as the bare pretext for an almost unintelligible set of flashbacks as Mallory inexplicably recounts recent events in her life to Scott and orders him to remember its key names: Aaron, Kenneth, Rodrigo, Russbourne, Zhang. It's as if to tell us to pay attention. But the way flashbacks are sliced and diced reflects a contempt for us and a need to cover up the lack of coherent plot.

During this lengthy, baffling rehash it emerges that Kenneth (a bland and unsexy Ewan McGregor) has been both Mallory's black ops handler and her one-time lover, as was, in Barcelona, her diner sparring partner Aaron. Kenneth hired Mallory out to the feds for an operation to free a Chinese dissenter called Zhang in Barcelona, with a then amorous Aaron involved. Something goes wrong but as soon as that is over Kenneth persuades Mallory to go to Dublin to play the wife of Paul (Michael Fassbender, elegant but not so convincing as a hand-to-hand fighter). In Dublin things go even more wrong. Behind Paul, apparently, is Roderigo, played by a bearded, mumbly Antonio Banderas. And behind Paul and Roderigo there is an unsavory French guy called Studer (Matthieu Kassowitz, in a walk-on). These actors and their characters appear to have no logical connection to the roles they play in the story, and the power lines emerge only dimly.

Clearly the Kenneth-Mallory story, if you can even believe in it, is one of those relationships that's gone really, really wrong. Why, we never quite know, other than the evident lack of chemistry. Are these two people even in the same movie? The only person Mallory can trust is her father (Bill Paxon), the author of bestselling historical action novels and like her a former Marine, who has a beautiful modernistic New Mexico house worthy of a Hitchcock movie. Also fairly trustworthy is a government guy, Coblentz, played with his usual tasteful sleaziness by Michael Douglas. Coblentz at least is willing to cut a fair deal. But deals and relationships don't matter, because Mallory's real function is revenge, though Soderbergh doesn't give us a chance to savor the taste of it like a Samurai or the amiable monsters in Tarantino's excruciatingly pleasurable Kill Bills.

When you think about it the employment of Carano as the lead shows the same contempt for the audience (and for acting) that Soderbergh exhibited when he used an affectless porn star to play a high priced call girl in The Girlfriend Experience. The difference is that Girlfriend was clearly experimental and small budget. The choice seems less justified in an action movie, a genre designed for entertainment. Though its way of shooting chases is more linear, Hwywire's debt to the Bourne kind of film is obvious. But its cold sleekness gives a pleasure of a drier, more purely aesthetic kind -- a feeling that wears off soon enough as one realizes the plot is close to meaningless and the action and characters dealt us by the writer Lem Dobbs are impossible to care about. The Bourne movies may be far-fetched, but they establish the existence of warring international forces at work; and Matt Damon's Jason Bourne is tough and physical, but an interesting, complex character, a linguist, a seeker. Gina Carano's is just tough and menacing, with a smattering of Spanish, and that's not enough. She's not trying to find out who she is. She's satisfied with being a blank.

Though it rides in on the wave of its Amazonian predecessors, Haywire doesn't begin to stand up against other female blockbuster movies like the much-maligned Kick-Ass; Angelina Jolie in Philip Noyce's Salt; or the imaginative and fun Latina superhero invented by Olivier Metagon for the sultry Zoe Saldana in Colombiana last year. Those were movies made to surprise and entertain. Haywire is trapped in its own shut-down pseudo-hipness. Note that these three other female superheroes are each provided with an intriguing backstory, something Mallory conspicuously lacks.

Soderbergh shoots and edits the action sequences -- the flying leaps, broken glass, groin punches, Kung Fu clashes, and bullet wounds -- with a high level of abstract polish. But what this is all about is the essential element that's lacking. The director seems in love with his own hipness and the result is a nicely filmed but joyless flop. At the heart of the failure, as so often happens, is evidently the writing, with the editing not far behind. If put together right with the addition of a few motives, there might be a movie somewhere here that made sense. But the human, understandable action either was not written in or was lost on the cutting room floor.

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┬ęChris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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