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" A woman’s heart is an ocean of secrets "
— Gloria Stuart, Titanic

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Gina Carano makes Haywire worth seeing.

Tightrope


Haywire is a sprightly little action flick from director Steven Soderbergh. It’s the kind of modest endeavor that manages to create a credible, likable protagonist while telling a tale of assassins and covert agents with a strong sense of understated humor.

The heroine of Haywire is Mallory Kane (mixed martial arts athlete Gina Carano in her feature debut). She’s a former marine who pays the bills by taking on dangerous missions around the world. Her latest assignment worked out well enough, rescuing a Chinese journalist and whistle blower who was taken hostage in Barcelona.

Mallory’s problems begin, though, when her handler (Ewan McGregor, The Ghost Writer) whisks her off to Dublin on a dubious deal to pose as the wife of an assassin (Michael Fassbender, A Dangerous Method) on an undercover mission of his own. Things go haywire for poor Mallory when the journalist she rescued turns up dead on a ritzy Irish estate. She’s being framed and she needs to get to the bottom of things before she winds up at the bottom of a grave.

Halo Effect

Soderbergh has built a career around swerving between independent fare (Sex, Lies, and Videotape and Che) and commercial films (Erin Brokovich and the Ocean’s trilogy). Some of his stuff hits the mark (Out of Sight) while some of it’s harder to appreciate (Solaris). Here, Soderbergh’s working with some fun material; it’s inoffensive, hardly controversial, and modestly commercial.

Haywire is a little action movie made by a director who seems to waffle between musings of retirement to simple painting sabbaticals, only to turn around and crank out four movies in 2011-2012, with two more on the horizon for 2013.

And, in some respects, Haywire is Soderbergh’s quasi-populist rebound, a project hatched around the time he was scotched from Moneyball, which went on to star Ocean’s collaborator Brad Pitt under the direction of Bennett Miller.

Rather than going for the gusto with a big-budget, brassy, full-throttle action picture, however, Soderbergh trades in the gloss of the Ocean’s series for a low-budget video approach. Technically, it’s a style that doesn’t serve the material very well and at times it looks like a movie shot in the 1960s, albeit with modern video equipment.

American Gladiator

Haywire isn’t an action movie in the implausible, ridiculous vein of Mission: Impossible. It also isn’t a borderline procedural/psychological study along the lines of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It falls somewhere in between; a grounded action/drama enlivened by Soderbergh’s singular sense of style and some slickly-choreographed fight scenes that allow Carano to show off her athletic prowess.

And it’s Carano’s appealing demeanor and strong character (strong in many different ways) that lifts this slim 90-minute adventure from simply being an art-house maven’s foray into Chuck Norris territory into something pretty special.

Carano holds her own against an extremely male-heavy cast, one that supplements McGregor and Fassbender with Bill Paxton (TV’s Big Love), Antonio Banderas (The Skin I Live In), and Channing Tatum (Public Enemies). And there’s also Michael Douglas (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps), who’s looking really good after dealing with throat cancer.

Therein lies Haywire’s appeal: It’s got a terrific female lead, a fantastic cast all around, nice settings, and a fun story that never gets bogged down with things like logistical details or heavy-handed monologues. It’s a lark. Nothing more. Nothing less.