Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) is an ex-marine turned contract agent, employed by a company with ties to the U.S. government (or something). She works with this one guy (Ewan McGregor) and this other guy (Channing Tatum), who loves her I guess because they make out for three seconds.
Behind the scenes, a couple of government shills (Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas) arrange a simple mission for Mallory’s company: rescue a hostage in Barcelona. Easy. Only this is an action thriller modeled after the Bourne franchise, so of course it’s a set-up to pit Mallory against her former colleagues and the government that did her wrong.
Also, Michael Fassbender plays a British agent named Paulie. That’s the only other character name I caught in “Haywire,” a dense, circuitous film that masks its own triviality behind a sleek façade.
“Haywire” starts off on familiar ground and loiters there for 90 minutes. It could be summed up as, “Jason Bourne … as a girl!” if Hanna hadn’t already made a better movie from the same concept. Worse, “Haywire” imagines its sophomoric plot needs to be realized with the same labyrinthine structure as “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.”
That means beginning in media res, then flashing back to the beginning, flashing further back from there for a few seconds, then cutting back to the middle once in a while until we finally, truly reach that point in time.
The first half of the film — the multilayer-flashback — is framed as Mallory explaining her situation to a hapless bystander (Michael Angarano) whose car she hijacks.
Angarano, bless his heart, acts as audience surrogate, working through a story as laborious as Mallory’s vocal delivery, asking some of the questions we want to ask. The second half continues from there, and then the film doesn’t so much end, as pick a scene and declare, “This will do.”
It’s a predictable story with dumb-as-bricks dialogue and a slew of non-actors — including our lead — wading through their lines alongside skilled veterans set to cruise control.
A jazz-fusion soundtrack has to delineate the action from the exposition just so we know when to pay attention. That it succeeds on some level, low as it may be, depends entirely on the work of director Steven Soderbergh.
You might remember Soderbergh as the man behind last fall’s “Contagion” and the Ocean’s movies, but his roots run deeper than blockbusters.
He kickstarted the indie revolution in the 1990s with sex, lies and videotape, and continues to release experimental, oddball wonders alongside his mainstream fare, like a four-hour Che Guevara biopic and the Godardian Bubble. He might have the most diverse filmography of any director in the industry today.
With Soderbergh at the helm, “Haywire” goes from amateurish to serviceable. It’s still stupid, mind you, but the action sequences steer clear of the shaky-cam Bourne inadvertently popularized.
The camera either holds still, privileging human movement, or tracks smoothly, following the action without overtaking it. In the film’s one standout sequence, Mallory escapes a SWAT team in Dublin by hopping rooftops and rushing down staircases. Soderbergh keeps Mallory as the focus, allowing the SWAT team to creep into the background, right on the periphery. It’s the only scene with any hint of suspense.
So yes, “Haywire” is pretty, but it amounts to another day in the office for Soderbergh. He punches in begrudgingly, does his work without complaint and leaves no worse, no better. You probably won’t regret watching “Haywire.” You won’t like it much either.