' ' Cinema Romantico: Haywire

Monday, May 21, 2012


Uber-super agent Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) – Sydney Bristow without the elaborate disguises – has come to Dublin to masquerade with MI6 agent Paul (Michael Fassbender) as a lovey-dovey couple at a luxurious party where Paul plans to meet with a contact. Or something. Who knows? The plot isn’t the point of the film. It’s the excuse. Anyway, Mallory and Paul meet at the train station. They go to a hotel. He takes a shower. As he does, she tracks down his laptop and hacks into it. Then she takes a shower. As she does, he tracks down her purse and rifles through it. Such is the life of a secret agent. If you take a shower with someone else in the room, you have to expect that someone else to do a little reconnaissance work, right? So shouldn’t Paul have expected Mallory to hack into his laptop? Well, sure. I suppose so. In real life, maybe, but “Haywire” is quite openly a movie, like a less overtly jokey, yet more intensified thrilling “Cabin in the Woods.” It's grade A awesome sauce.

Make no mistake, Steven Soderbergh, genre hop-scotcher, and his writer Lem Dobbs know just what they are up to every step of the way. From the shower scene to the old standby Put On A Hoodie And You’ll Slip Right By A Police Blockade to the taking of a hostage purely as a means to deliver exposition to the character who inexplicably takes a walk at the most inexplicable moment along the beach solely to set up the climactic duel in a spectacular location, the film repeatedly employs every cliché in the manual as a means to both toy with and subvert them.

Mallory is part of a private firm run by the not-as-dapper-as-he-thinks Kenneth (Ewan McGregor), her ex in order to inject the requisite romance without, cleverly, injecting it at all, and she and her team are hired to extract journalist hostage Jiang (Anthony Brandon Wong) from Barcelona. (In the pictures tacked to the wall as they hatch their plan one potential adversary is identified as “Bad Guy #1.” TELL ME Soderbergh and Dobbs didn’t know what they were doing! You can’t!) Once the mission is completed Mallory reveals this will be……wait for it……her last job. She’s out. But, of course, she’s not out. Because Kenneth ropes her back in to go to Dublin. Which is where, as it happens, the obligatory set-up is revealed and Paul tries to eliminate her. He fails. And now she’s on the lam and intent on clearing her soiled name by way of getting revenge against the ex-boyfriend who’s done her rather wrong. Call it “The Bourne Supremacy” with a sprinkling of “Salt.” (Boo yah!)

Of course, for all its sly asides and wondrous riffs on the form, “Haywire” would have merely been an elongated inside joke if the action scenes failed – and Soderbergh ensures they do not. Consider the opening – which, as it turns out, is actually the middle of the movie – at the roadside diner where Mallory is supposed to meet someone only to meet someone she doesn’t expect to meet. As she sits there sipping coffee and waiting the soundtrack bops along, quoting – not unintentionally – that James Bond Theme guitar riff. But the instant the kung-fu/karate/hand-to-hand/whatever the heck it is erupts, the soundtrack cuts out. This happens every single time for the duration of the 90 minutes. Every fight is set to silence, save for the sounds of punches, kicks and grunts. This is refreshing like a mint julep on a scorching summer’s day sans central air. Also consider the majestic Being Followed Sequence in which Mallory stalks the streets in a sassy hat as she realizes some dude in a coat across the way is eyeing her every move. The camera moves, fluently, but it never shakes and, again, with no music our emotions are not cued and so when, say, a car pulls out behind her we can’t be certain if that car is coming for her or if it’s just some innocent daytripper. It’s nothing but shoes on cement but it titillates with an exotic force.

And the authenticity of these fisticuffs is heightened by the presence of Carano, resembling a Carla Gugino from Gold’s Gym with a Linda Fiorentino voice, a real life MMA fighter. Then again, there is a reason why I’m so often disinterested in the kvetching about someone like the rail thin Angelina Jolie playing badass and that is because Angelina is, you know, an actress. Gina is not. It shows, often blatantly, in inexpressive line readings and in an even more inexpressive face. Re-enter Soderbergh. He deftly masks her weaknesses by playing them up. Her Mallory seems not so much hell-bent on revenge as mildly annoyed that she has to tromp around cleaning up all these loose ends. At one point when spinning her story in the car to her hostage (Michael Angarano) she is forced to do a bit of off-roading and the poor hostage exclaims “I just bought this car last week.” That’s the expected line in this situation. Mallory’s response is not. She says: “Yeah. Well.”

Yeah. Well. That’s all. No pithy one-liner, no comedic putdown. You’ve seen this story before. Yeah. Well. Soderbergh has got the action thriller playbook and he’s running it step by step to show how even if that’s what you choose to do a little bit of craft can still render an antiquated scenario wholly original.

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