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'Haywire': Soderbergh thriller a cracking good time, critics say

January 20, 2012 |  2:44 pm

Back in 2010, rumors swirled that director Steven Soderbergh would be retiring from filmmaking soon and focusing on painting. Since then, though, he's been as busy as ever, releasing the pandemic thriller "Contagion" in September and finding a new muse in the female mixed martial artist Gina Carano, who makes her theatrical debut in Soderbergh's first spy flick, "Haywire." The film, which opens today, has been appraised by many critics as well-crafted and entertaining, if not especially profound.

The Times' Betsy Sharkey declares that "Haywire" is "less a tightly plotted action film than an excuse to showcase Carano's substantial fighting skills." While the film doesn't represent the best work of either Soderbergh or screenwriter Lem Dobbs ("Dark City," Soderbergh's "The Limey"), Sharkey says it's neither's worst effort, and watching Carano kick butt "is thoroughly entertaining, highly amusing and frankly somewhat awe-inspiring." Also helping things along are Soderbergh's trademark dry humor ("dry, bone dry, 0% humidity dry") and "sheer technical wizardry."

Joe Morgenstern, of the Wall Street Journal, finds plenty to like in the film, just not its depth (or lack thereof). "There's no deeper meaning to Steven Soderbergh's thriller than what meets the eye," he writes, "yet its lustrous surfaces offer great and guilt-free pleasure." Of Carano's acting debut, Morgenstern says, "It remains to be seen whether Ms. Carano's star presence will take her beyond action roles, but she's certainly appealing in this one, and very much at home in a strong cast," which includes Michael Fassbender (which film doesn't these days?), Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas and Ewan McGregor.

New York Times film critic A.O. Scott, however, calls the film "self-consciously and aggressively trivial," writing that it "goes to great lengths to avoid being about anything beyond its immediate situations and effects." For Scott, the film is too knowing, even condescending, in its glorification of B-movie thrills. He places "Haywire" alongside recent flicks such as "The American" and "Drive," which "offer strained pulp" and are "neither as dumb as we want them to be nor as smart as they think they are, and not, in the end, all that much fun."

Roger Ebert agrees with Morgenstern: "A film like 'Haywire' has no lasting significance," he writes, "but it's a pleasure to see an A-list director taking the care to make a first-rate genre thriller." Soderbergh he describes as "a master craftsman whose work moves almost eagerly between genres," and for her part, Carano also displays plenty of technical skill, showing off "the same elegant moments we remember from Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan." Ebert also offers a prediction for Carano: "I expect her to become a considerable box-office success, because the fact is, within a limited range, she's good."

The Washington Post's Ann Hornaday calls the film "a pleasure to watch" and credits Soderbergh's understated direction and "lean, unfussy style," although Slate's Dana Stevens finds "Haywire" "curiously unengaging" and ultimately tedious.

In the end, most critics seem to agree that "Haywire" packs a punch. It's up to audiences to decide for themselves whether it packs anything else.


Photos: 'Haywire' premiere in Los Angeles

MMA star Gina Carano turns to acting with 'Haywire'

With MMA-themed 'Haywire,' Soderbergh tries a new trick

— Oliver Gettell

Photo: Gina Carano and Ewan McGregor in "Haywire." Credit: Claudette Barius / Relativity Media

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