ImageIn case Warner Bros. still intends to make a WONDER WOMAN movie (and WB execs, please don’t let the failure of GREEN LANTERN scare you away from developing WONDER WOMAN), its casting search to play the Amazon Princess is over. Gina Carano, famous MMA (that’s mixed martial arts for those like me who don’t care for the sport) fighter and the star of Steven Soderbergh’s new action film HAYWIRE, has the looks, physique, and sufficient acting chops to play the part. Although Soderbergh’s latest film is an altogether average and mostly forgettable experience, Carano carries herself like an action star on a level approaching the iconic 80’s action heroes like Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Willis. She doesn’t have a lot to say and when she does, she’s not exactly thespian material, but Carano has a strong screen presence that elevates her above her more talented and more famous co-stars and saves HAYWIRE from becoming a very bad movie.

HAYWIRE is a low-budget, gritty version of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE that stars Carano as a secret operative who works for a private company that contracts her services out to governments. The story is a bit convoluted, but the gist of the plotline is that Carano’s boss (Ewan McGregor) sends Carano and another employee (Channing Tatum) to go to Barcelona and rescue an Asian guy. The assignment comes from a U.S. government agent (Michael Douglas) and the agent’s contact person (Antonio Banderas). Carano and Tatum succeed in rescuing the Asian guy and Carano intends to finally quit her job like she’s always intended. However, her boss manages to talk her into taking on an additional assignment, where she gets to pose as the wife of a British agent (Michael Fassbender) during a mission in Dublin. Carano discovers that the assignment is a set-up to get her in trouble and she runs off. On the lam, Carano spends the rest of the film trying to figure out who double-crossed her. Bill Paxton also stars in the film as Carano’s father.

Given the title of the movie, I was expecting a bit more insanity and a rising crescendo in the level of action. On the contrary, by the time you reach the end of the film, not a whole lot occurs. The fact that the plot is completely unoriginal doesn’t help matters either. However, where there is action, it is intense, violent, and exciting to watch. When I say ‘action,’ I’m referring to the only action worth mentioning in this movie and that is the fight scenes featuring Carano. What I liked here was that Carano’s opponents don’t go easy on her just because she is a woman. They take her on just like they would any male opponent. The fight scenes are very well choreographed and I appreciated the fact that Soderbergh allowed these scenes to play out without any music, fancy-cutting, slo-mo, fast-mo, or visual effects (or at least not that I know of). You get a taste of Carano’s fighting prowess in the very first sequence when she battles Channing Tatum. The brutality surprises you and sets you up for what you will get throughout the movie.

Like I said before, Gina Carano is not a great actress, but she has enough screen presence to make up for any acting deficiencies. What’s more, her character is a woman of few words so much isn’t required from the actress. In addition, Carano is surrounded by a large and well-known supporting cast. It seems like every scene had a famous face popping up on the screen. I especially enjoyed the scenes between Carano and Michael Fassbender. This is the fifth film I have seen Fassbender in less than a year and he never fails to put forth a good performance. The scenes between he and Carano are fun and their ultimate showdown is the best one in the film. As for the rest of the cast, there isn’t much to say about them as they quickly fleet in and out of their scenes. I will say that this is the most alive I have ever seen Channing Tatum be in any of the films I have seen him in. This isn’t saying a whole lot considering his severely limited range in acting abilities, but I suppose you could say that his effort here is a small baby step in the right direction.

However, with all the positives in HAYWIRE, the movie was outweighed by its shortcomings. The plot is something we have seen numerous times. A secret agent who gets screwed and now has to run and figure out who betrayed her. The first MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE immediately comes to mind, but this is an old narrative staple of the espionage/spy genre. I was hoping Soderbergh would have instead taken his indie sensibilities and crafted a story that bent the genre down a new path, but he unfortunately decided to keep it safe instead. The generic quality of the story is also not helped by the fact that you lose track of the different characters names about midway through the movie. I had a general idea of what was going on, but I was never sure of which actor the characters were referring to whenever they mentioned a name.

I’ve never been a huge admirer of Steven Soderbergh (unlike almost every critic out there), but I do hold a fair amount of respect for his body of work and his continual efforts to go into unexplored territories. HAYWIRE is Soderbergh’s first action spy movie and it certainly has qualities about it that I like (as I’ve listed above). However, Soderbergh was obviously not trying to ground his story in realism or show us how the world of espionage really operates (like TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY presumably does). Here, he tries to present us with a low-budget version of the big-budget action spy movies that we’re so accustomed to. Therein lies the problem. Spy movies like MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and the BOURNE IDENTITY series are meant to be escapist and fun. We expect those films to have lots of explosions, exotic locales, and insane situations. By making a film that is low-budget, Soderbergh removes everything that makes this type of action spy movie enjoyable. If he was going to go low-budget, I would have rather seen him tell us a realistic spy film.

HAYWIRE is not an altogether bad film. It has great fight scenes and Gina Carano is enjoyable to watch (thankfully she didn’t pull a Howie Long in FIRESTORM). However, it’s a film that you leave in the theater once the end credits begin to roll and forget it forever.