Haywire (2012)

Action stars aren’t generally celebrated for their thesping prowess. Arnie. Sly. Stath. They look cool beating people up, and we love them for it. So it makes perfect sense given history’s fondness for the untrained action hero that director Steven Soderbergh’s cast a non-actor as the kick-ass lead in his new movie. What’s more surprising is how well martial arts fighter and former American Gladiators luminary Gina Carano pulls it off.

A covert operative who does the jobs that the government doesn’t want to dirty its dainty hands with, Mallory Kane (Carano) gets double-crossed by her boss (Ewan McGregor) after a routine mission. Cue globe-trotting, gun-firing and gut-punching galore as Kane attempts to clear her name while smoking out the bad guys.

It really is as simple as that. Soderbergh doesn’t burden his thriller with any convoluted conundrums, keeping the focus almost exclusively on Carano and her mean right hook. The result? A zippy actioner that feels like a forgotten gem from the 1970s. Saturated in style, Haywire’s got a fantastic score and some of the finest on-screen scraps since the last Bourne film.

Soderbergh brews an effectively simple formula. Carano does the heavy hitting, while names like Fassbender, Banderas and McGregor shoulder the dramatic portion. And considering how lightweight the material is, they pull it off remarkably well – Fassy’s jaw-droppingly physical hotel bust-up with Carano is a show-stopper that the film fails to top.

There’s just one problem. In the absence of a decent substance-boosting conspiracy – or an emotional connection to Kane – Haywire ends up existing solely as a showcase for Carano’s mad bum-kicking skills. While those are never in any doubt, Haywire ends up feeling somewhat slight and trivial as a consequence. Even at 90 minutes, the film’s overlong, especially as the final stretch exposes Carano’s inability to tap into any deeper emotion. Still, as an exercise in clarity of purpose and a feast for action junkies, it’s hard to fault. 3/5