Thursday, January 26, 2012

Haywire (2012)

"Set eye lasers to kill."

     What happens when you take MMA fighter Gina Carano, a handful of veteran A-list actors, a few up-and-comers, and sometimes commercial filmmaker with an indie-film soul, Steven Soderbergh? You get this awful pun: "An art-minded action film experiment that went a little Haywire". Now that I got that out of my system...Haywire was a film conceived with the intention of making Gina Carano an 80's-style female action star who is believably capable of kicking wholesale ass. The finished product does deliver on that promise, but it may not be the action extravaganza some were hoping for.
     Much like last year's Drive, Haywire is slower paced and, for lack of a better word, "artsy". In one chase sequence in particular, Soderbergh opts for minimal sound effects, black and white cinematography, and a jazz inspired score. This runs straight in the face of the typical slam-bang-pow of most action cinema. The film is full of deliberate pacing differences like this. In a movie where you know, sooner or later, someone is going to be kicked through a window, why rush things?
     The slowing of the pace isn't to focus on the story though. The plot is secondary to the visual aspects of the film. If there is one weak element in Haywire, it is undoubtedly the plot. It is simplistic and predictable, but aren't most revenge movies? Just because the film is technically sound with a clear artistic bend doesn't mean is has to be intellectually heavy. The movie is about a woman seeking vengeance. People have wronged her and they will pay. I feel it's an even stronger testament to Soderbergh's talent. It's standard genre fare that is elevated through style alone. The only real downside is a few sequences bordered on the pretentious, which could alienate some viewers just hoping to watch Carano go house on Michael Douglas.
     When it comes down to it the movie really succeeds because of Carano. She delivers in spectacular ways. She may not be a seasoned actress but she can put up a fight against anything with a heartbeat. During some of the slower moments you can almost feel her struggle to stay in character, which is fine given the character is a stone-cold killing machine and human emotion is something she has to pretend to feel anyway. Once she starts handing out beatings you forget about everything else, and just take it all in. It's refreshing to see an action movie with an "ass-kicking chick" and not have to pretend to believe what you're seeing. This isn't Angelina Jolie defeating 5 men at once using her ponytail. This is a trained killing machine doing her job and doing it well. She isn't really sexualized in the film either. No shots of her in various stages of undress, wielding dual .45's, and dropping bombs like "Say hello to the twins!". She is meant to be taken seriously. I chose the photo for the header of this review because I feel it encompasses that feeling. She looks like a soldier because she is.
     At the end of the day this movie probably won't be popping up on any "Best of" lists, but it is thoroughly entertaining and a refreshing take on the revenge flick. January is infamous for being a dumping ground for Hollywood studios. They need to get their misfires out as soon as possible to try and get some kind of compensation for them without taking up valuable summer or fall real estate. With that being said, a film like Haywire is incredible compared to the competition. But I'm not convinced it will be one that really sticks with you long after you leave the theatre. Grade: B

The Good, The Bad, and The 'Verse

     You really can't talk about strong females in action cinema without mentioning Ripley. Before James Cameron was proclaimed "Master of All Cinema", he spent the majority of his time making movies that told very intriguing stories, and populated these films with interesting, well-developed characters. Aliens is one of these movies and Ripley is one of those characters. He and Sigourney Weaver were able to take the character from the "space trucker" she was in the first film and transform her into a woman robbed of her own life, hell-bent on destroying whatever it was that stole her humanity. Carano's character in Haywire isn't anywhere near the level of Weaver's in Aliens, but maybe someday she'll find a role like that.
     Salt isn't a bad movie. It's a bad movie to have Angelina Jolie as the lead. I don't care how many Tomb Raider's, Mr. and Mrs. Smith's, or Wanted's she stars in, there is no way I will ever buy her as that kind of character. I understand suspension of disbelief. I know all movies have elements of fantasy. I also know there is a line that must be drawn. Jolie is standing firmly on the same side of the line as Charlton Heston playing hispanic characters in El Cid and Touch of Evil.
     As with almost every rule, there is an exception. I will freely admit my hypocrisy here and now, but it doesn't change anything. I don't think 90 pound women should ever be placed in a realistic role that requires them to showcase their proficiency in hand-to-hand combat...unless there are already extraordinary amounts of crazy shit already taking place. Such is the case of Serenity. This low-budget space-western based on a television show canceled halfway through it's first season is forged from the kind of awesome that dreams and saturday mornings are made of. Yes, the story does kind of revolve around a teenage girl dolling out cartwheel-handstand-dropkicks and butterfly-kisses of death, but it's also set in the future in deep space. Oh, and there are six-shooters and samurai swords. Yup.


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