I’ll come clean - I’m more of an early Steven Soderbergh film fan. "Sex, lies, and videotape" was a stunning five-star debut, "Kafka" a fantastically strange experience and "King of the Hill" a nostalgic favorite. But it was his fourth film, the highly underrated masterwork "The Underneath," where the director not only showed some cinematic savvy, but also began to play with what would eventually become (for better or worse!) a Soderbergh staple – playing with time. Over the years it has had varying degrees of effectiveness on his work including adding charm to the Clooney fest "Out of Sight" to totally ruining the ‘should have been genius’ potential of the simply unwatchable "The Limey." (Someone should have fired the editor of that thing!) In his new flick "Haywire," Soderbergh once again goes back to the tried and true, but thankfully like in The Underneath, uses his time jumping device to make the cool story moments within pop and shine bright - and it’s a welcome return to the fabulous films of his past.
Frankly the story of "Haywire," minus a few terrific twists and turns, is fairly straightforward. Female covert operative gets doubled crossed and sets out to provide a little ass-kicking payback to everyone and anyone involved.
So then what makes Soderbergh’s work so special here? First and foremost he’s cast an actual MMA fighter as his bone-crunching gal of choice in the lead. Meaning all the moves, fights and hand-to-hand combat seen in the film is performed personally by leading lady Gina Carano and it’s spectacular stuff. Not that she’s simply a one-note wonder, as her charm, sex appeal and overall charisma oozes throughout "Haywire," but Carano seems most at home when inflicting vengeance seeking pain. And she does so in spades, beating the living daylights out of most of the men here, all with a realistic fury that screams ouch.
But Soderbergh has also wisely chocked the picture full of stellar talents, which certainly helps to bring up acting newbie Carano’s game. It’s hard not to love the dim prowess of Channing Tatum, the greasy vibe of Antonio Banderas, and the bureaucratic bull of Michael Douglas. (Even Michael Angarano of "Gentlemen Broncos" helps provide some much welcomed comic relief!) But it’s the scene stealing work of the continually captivating Michael Fassbender that truly gives Carano and the film a boost. Their scenes together - be it flirting or fighting - are definitely the films best and finally gives eager audiences a notable on-screen couple with truly zesty sparks. (Give those two a movie together!)
The only miscasting in the whole film is the out-of-place Ewan McGregor as Carano’s handler. Meek, geek and not to chic, McGregor frankly sticks out like a sore thumb and I didn't buy him for a minute. (Steven should have forgone the name value and cast this one with the much more fitting Peter "The Underneath" Gallagher for maximum effect!)
But even that small standout is nothing compared to what is so right about "Haywire." Soderbergh combines the action with a dark sense of humor and a pinch of fun (also thanks to the sassy score by David Holmes!) to bring back the wonderment of what has been seemingly MIA from his films of late. Like a man trying to regain his roots, determined to make something special and finally using his beaten to death technique in the way it was initially intended, Soderbergh has cast all aside to create a film even early fans can be proud of - good to have you back Steven.
"HAYWIRE" OPENS IN THEATERS EVERYWHERE JAN. 20 FROM RELATIVITY MEDIA.