DISAPPOINTINGLY, the main character in Haywire is not named "Haywire." Instead, her name is the significantly more boring "Mallory," which is a goddamn shame, because she's the exact opposite of boring. Played by MMA fighter Gina Carano—who I did not know existed a month ago but now might be the love of my life—Mallory's a soldier/spy/assassin who could quadriplegicize James Bond and make Jason Bourne whimper like a tiny little emo baby. Actually, "Mallory" is a totally inappropriate name for Carano's character; therefore, I will be referring to her only as "Haywire." It's more fitting than "Mallory," and it's even better than Carano's name when she was on American Gladiators as "Crush," which, in a total coincidence, happens to be my middle name. (Fate.)
So in Haywire, Haywire is running around being 100 percent deadly and beautiful when her skeevy employer (Ewan McGregor) assigns her an easy, last-minute job. But of course that job goes straight to shit, and soon enough, Haywire's running and kicking and shooting her way through a bloody labyrinth of subterfuge.
As he did four months ago with Contagion, director Steven Soderbergh dives full-on into genre: If Contagion was his melodramatic '70s disaster saga, Haywire is his lean, tough action flick, and he infuses the thing with enough adrenaline to make most other action movies look like wussy little Jason Bournes. With a vibe that recalls the style and confidence of '60s spy flicks, Haywire moves with a blend of speed, grace, and brutality.
Which is a good way to describe Carano, too—she isn't going to swipe an Oscar from Meryl Streep anytime soon, but she's as charismatic, clever, and driven of a heroine as one could want. Haywire is crammed with A-list actors (McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas), but all of 'em fade into the background whenever Carano's onscreen. That gender dynamic is hardly at the forefront of Haywire, but Soderbergh and screenwriter Lem Dobbs don't soft-pedal it, either: Carano's fights are cringe-inducingly tough, and perhaps the wisest words in the film are when one man cautions another: "You shouldn't think of her as being a woman," he says. "That would be a mistake."
So while Haywire is Carano's film (sigh), it's Soderbergh's lean, sharp, stylish direction that marks it as something remarkable: Pulling no punches, narrative or literal, Haywire burns along—whether Carano is kicking a dude through a door, or Soderbergh's capturing a desperate foot chase in a long, wordless stretch, the whole thing's a welcome dose of the kinetic excitement that good action movies are made of.