Sunday, February 12, 2012
I sometimes wonder if Soderbergh forgets that after all his tinkering and experimentation there is an actual audience that is going to pay to watch this stuff.
The fact that he went ahead with Haywire despite the lack of a story worth telling or a lead character worth giving a damn about suggests that the ticket-buying public is not high on his list of concerns. He is making films for an audience of one - himself. The fact that this method has lead to some terrific work in the past prevents one from slapping him down to hard in cases like this where the results don't materialize. But it is still alienating when it's clear a film doesn't take its own story seriously. Soderbergh seems to be saying, "Sure, if I felt like it, I could make a movie to knock you on your ass. But I'd rather doodle around the edges, so if you came for a great time, I trust you can find the exits."
Haywire did start with an idea worth basing a film around - an action film where all the elements are kept plausibly down-to-Earth. There are no Michael Bay pyrotechnics nor does it hop on the jittery you-are-there Bourne bandwagon. All the action has weight and gravity. Punches hurt and people's endurance is not unlimited. This is a great jumping off point for an action movie, but Haywire treats it as an end unto itself. The fights are well-choreographed, and star Gina Carano is a convincing ass-kicker - especially when you consider the 98 pound, pencil-wrist leading ladies Hollywood usually tries to pass off as action stars. But it's all in service of what?
I gave up caring about the tangles of the plot early in Haywire, correctly surmising that it the end it wouldn't make a bit of difference who was double-crossing whom and what hefty payoff they expected to reap as a result. All you need to know is that Mallory Kane is one of the world's most deadly contractors and that some rogue element in her organization wants her dead. The screenplay does eventually go through the motions of explaining what all the fuss was about but calling it an afterthought would be generous. Haywire exists in the moment of whatever chase or fight or heated conversation is taken place. Time spent trying to piece it all together would be better spent retrieving dropped popcorn from the folds of your clothes.
But couldn't you say that about any action movie? Sure. The reasons for the action scenes doesn't matter half as much as the action itself. Everybody remembers the crop duster trying to mow down Cary Grant but I doubt 1 in a 100 could tell you why it was bothering. So we can forgive a lot by way a plot, so long as the movie commits to a story and demands our attention, but Haywire never gets up to that speed. After a promising beginning involving and extended clash between Carano and Michael Fassbender, the all-star cast settles into an extended roundelay of secret chats in yellow-tinted rooms interspersed with more beatings, stranglings and chases all bumping into each other without generating much by way of sparks.
It doesn't help that Soderbergh cast real life MMA star Gina Carano in the title role of Mallory Kane. It doesn't seem fair to criticize her blatant lack of acting ability anymore than it is to complain about Gary Oldman's inability to deliver a decent roundhouse kick to the head. Acting does not appear to have been part of job description. She is the next in a line of Soderbergh's experiments with non-actors following the likes of Bubble and The Girlfriend Experience. Her performance give the persistent impression of a stunt double put in a pinch when the star didn't show. She is a commanding physical presence but as a personality she is a non-entity. If it's a choice between a woman who can believably wail on Channing Tatum or suspending disbelief to buy that Uma Thurman can beat up fifty men, I will happily suspend my disbelief every time.
Haywire isn't without interest. Soderbergh is too sharp a guy to make a total dead zone, and there are a bunch - but not enough - pleasurable little twists of style. I already mentioned the extended pas de deux with Michael Fassbender. I also liked a car chase that ends unexpectedly, the perfectly abrupt ending, and a great moment where Carano seems to emerge, running full speed, out of thin air.
So there was enough to hold the interest of film types like me. It's an exercise and on that level it's an entertaining, if forgettable, one. It should provide for an interesting chapter when people write the book on Soderbergh. But for folks with a seemingly infinite amount of entertainment options to chose from, I can't say Haywire justifies 93 minutes of their time.
Verdict: You can't say Haywire is a failure because it does what it sets out to do, create an action movie experience with both feet planted in plausible reality. I only wish that Soderbergh aimed hire and married this to a compelling story. As it stands it's Haywire demonstrates the manner in which one could make a great action movie without actually doing it. 5 out of 10