Unlike some of his contemporaries, Steven Soderbergh is not a perfectionist. He does not agonize over a production like David Fincher, filming hundreds of takes to zero in on a preconceived ideal. Soderbergh thrives on improvisation, on the thrill of finding then filming the underrepresented. Haywire, his alleged third-to-last film, exists because he asked himself what an action programmer, the kind you’d happen upon on Netflix Instant in the wrong aspect ratio, made by Steven Soderbergh would look like. The answer is a lean, intentionally slight piece of delightful junk in which real-life MMA star turned (sort of) actress Gina Carano trades blows with a hilariously overqualified male cast (though she leaves Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas, with fuzzy beard, unmauled).
Carano joins Debbie Doebereiner of Bubble and Sasha Grey of The Girlfriend Experience in the filmmaker’s roster of nonactors thrust to the center of his work. Each have limited capabilities, but capabilities that few possess. Carano’s talent, of course, is beating the shit out of people. She’s quicksilver with her movements, and likable enough when she’s not sweeping out Channing Tatum’s legs. With her relaxed, smug superiority and gruff alto voice, she could even become the next Ashley Judd. (Though hopefully she won’t.)
Soderbergh isn’t out to reinvent the wheel, but Haywire is unmistakably the work of the restless artist behind Contagion, Schizopolis and Che. His shots are clean and playful; his humor exists in goofy details, as with a Post-It note attached to a surveillance photo that reads simply “Bad Guy No. 1.” But Haywire doesnt deviate too far from form. The script, by Lem Dobbs (Soderbergh’s co-conspirator on The Limey), is boilerplate globehopping intrigue, with Carano’s covert operative betrayed by her superiors—a sticky wicket that exists so that every now and then Carano can, say, go knock-down, drag-out with Michael Fassbender in a tony Dublin hotel room, as per the film’s obvious centerpiece.
As well-made as Haywire is, it’s still open to cliches, like a close-up of Carano badassedly warning an escaping villain, “You better run.” The film’s lack of perversity is, in its way, perverse. More master filmmakers need a movie where Channing Tatum’s head strikes a diner stool on their CV.