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Review: Ain’t Soderbergh’s ‘Haywire’ a Kick in the Head!

MMA fighter Gina Carano may not be the greatest actress, but her fighting skills make a definite impression

Not unlike one of those mattresses that allows sleepers to choose their own firmness level, director Steven Soderbergh’s movies come in a variety of flavors for moviegoers to choose, whether it’s All-Star Extravaganza (“Traffic,” the “Ocean’s” movies) or Oddball Indie Experiment (“Bubble,” “And Everything is Going Fine”).

His latest, “Haywire,” sees Soderbergh operating in Gritty ’60s/’70s Crime Thriller Mode; like “The Limey,” also written by “Haywire” scribe Lem Dobbs, it’s the kind of film that hearkens back to lean-and-mean revenge movies like “Get Carter” and “Point Blank.”

But with famous faces like Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum and Bill Paxton in the cast, the film also scratches the director’s All-Star itch.

Top billing goes to first-time actress Gina Carano, a champion in the world of Mixed Martial Arts and a veteran of “American Gladiators.” And while she may not be the most seasoned of actresses, the decidedly un-slick vibe she brings to the movie actually works in her favor; she’s playing a somewhat emotionally disengaged hired gun, so it’s not like the character has full access to her emotions, either.

What Carano does bring to the role is a ferocity and physical presence that makes her more than the match of the many men she flattens like pancakes over the course of the movie. Carano is to violence in “Haywire” what porn star Sasha Grey was to sex in “The Girlfriend Experience,” a previous example of Soderbergh casting a non-traditional leading lady to interesting ends.

Carano stars as Mallory, whom we first see trekking across the frozen wasteland of upstate New York. At a diner, she has a rendezvous with Aaron (Channing Tatum), who has been instructed to bring her in, and when she refuses, the two of them get into a knock-down-drag-out male-on-female fight, the likes we haven’t really seen since Russ Meyer’s classic “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!”

Hapless by-stander Scott (Michael Angarano) comes to Mallory’s aid, and she commandeers his car. As the two drive off, Mallory tells him — and the audience — just what’s going on, a tale that involves her work as hired muscle for the government and her betrayal by her boss and ex-boyfriend Kenneth (McGregor).

The plot of “Haywire” is essentially one enormous McGuffin that allows Carano ample opportunities for fight and/or flight. The nearly-wordless sequence in which Mallory eludes Irish authorities over several city blocks (sometimes she uses the front door, other times she leaps from roof to roof) winds up just as exciting as the many scenes in which Carano connects fist or foot to face.

Audiences are more likely to leave the theater remembering Carano and Michael Fassbender walloping the tar out of each other in a glass-shattering, bone-crunching hotel room fight than debating the finer points of the plot or any of the performances. But what “Haywire” lacks in artifice, it more than makes up for with adrenaline and bravado.

Carano may or may not have a film career ahead of her, but for the 93 minutes of “Haywire,” there’s no question that she’s a movie star.