Give a professional athlete a starring role in a Hollywood movie, and the viewing public will expect either a dopey comedy (Shaquille O'Neal in "Kazaam") or a cheesy action movie (Brian Bosworth in "Stone Cold").
"Haywire," starring mixed martial arts champion (and former American Gladiator) Gina Carano, doesn't quite fit the stereotype.
It's certainly an action movie, but it's a slightly different kind of thriller — a no-frills project with an indie feel from a big-name director, featuring an outstanding supporting cast around the untrained lead actress.
Carano plays Mallory Kane, a stoic ex-Marine now working as a private security contractor on shady espionage missions. From the very start of the film, she's on the run, and it takes the rest of the movie to tell us why.
Carano certainly doesn't show much range as an actress — she's largely emotionless — but she delivers her limited lines adequately, and she unquestionably shines in the action scenes. When she runs, she seems to know how to run. When she fights (without use of a stunt double), you believe that she could really hurt you, or most anyone.
Director Steven Soderbergh surrounds Carano with an interesting cast of characters. Ewan McGregor is Kenneth, her manipulative boss. Michael Douglas is a government big shot. Channing Tatum ("The Eagle") is a fellow agent who doesn't fight quite as well. Bill Paxton is her ex-military dad. Michael Fassbender ("X-Men: First Class") is a suave, British operative.
Antonio Banderas is, well, I think he's playing the Dos Equis "Most Interesting Man."
Soderbergh doesn't waste money on excessive special effects or an overpowering score — or a particularly strong script, for that matter. It's sparse and gritty, with quick eruptions of violence, and pushes style over substance.
"Haywire" is interesting and different, even if it's not completely satisfying. As for Carano's potential movie career, that's still very much in doubt.
Rental Recommendation: Soderbergh's "The Informant!" was quirky and funny and underrated when it came out in 2009. Grade: B+
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