Sometimes brilliant, sometimes boring, Haywire explodes on the screen with so much awesome that it doesn’t need actual explosions.
First, the brilliant … if you know nothing about Haywire, then that’s exactly how it should remain when you go see it. The less you know, the better. Like action and spy movies? Go see it.
The rest of you however have probably either seen the movie and want confirmation of your initial reaction or have surfed to here, the end of the Internet, looking for one more reason to decide whether or not to go.
Hence… from here on out … there will be spoilers.
Haywire contains exactly the kind of action I like. You can tell who is doing what. The hero is NOT an unstoppable ass-kicking machine. Every punch makes you wince.
The fight scenes are short, brutal and contain no music. They feel like tracking shots despite containing cuts. There is no better vehicle for introducing ex-MMA fighter Gina Carano to the world. Every punch, throw and choke-hold feels real … and painful.
If I had not seen the trailer, I would have thought the first ten minutes of Haywire to be the best of any action movie in recent memory. It works on a primal level.
Here’s a hot girl. Here’s Channing Tatum. Here’s Channing Tatum throwing hot coffee in her face. I don’t like seeing girls punched in the face. Is this some sort of domestic violence film? That’s too far. She’s going to … wait a sec. Holy crap, that little brunette just kicked his ass.
From there we get sucked into the world of independent ass kicker Mallory who’s trying to stay alive and figure out just what went wrong with her last mission.
What makes Haywire work beyond the fight scenes are the way the film handles exposition and its main character.
A typical spy film would begin a mission sequence with a briefing where someone in a suit with a projector shows us pictures of a sour looking fellow and explains that he’s evil. A better spy film would introduce a little humor in the meeting scene to apologize for spelling out everything. Haywire shows you a picture nailed to a cork board with the words “bad guy” taped to it.
It’s short and simple. Delivers the information in the smallest amount of time needed. It’s also brilliant because, once the credits roll, you’ll realize that that tiny detail explains volumes about why things went south in the first place.
The guy in the picture isn’t a bad guy. Mallory was told he was the bad guy. She slapped him on the board and never thought twice about it. She is a victim of overconfidence and trust.
The other thing Haywire does right is its treatment of Mallory. Mallory is not a female Steven Segal punching her way through an army of bad guys. She is flawed.
Mallory makes mistakes, and that makes her human. She slips off a building during a chase (a chase that began after she failed to thoroughly check for tracking devices). She gets beat up. She trusts the wrong people. She’s a lot more John MacClane than Jason Bourne. (She just needs a repertoire of wisecracks and a tank top).
And now the boring.
Much of the movie takes place in flashbacks. Honestly, this would’ve worked better without them, maintaining the intensity the whole time with a real-time feel. However, I can live with that.
The problem is since the main character is telling the story, any action involving her in a flashback is kind of meaningless. We know she survives. The film makes us sit through a 10-minute chase scene that we know will end with the main character escaping. That does nothing for me.
The writer was set on starting with the surprise cafe fight (which was spoiled in the trailer) and keeping a traditional story structure. Has cakes and eets, too? No. You can not.
IMHO the story would have worked better without flashbacks. Mallory’s romance could’ve been stronger. Then the cafe scene would occur mid-film and set in a way where we don’t know if Aaron (Tatum) is on her side or not.
As I said above, drop the flashbacks. Continue the real-time feel with Mallory and Scott (the cafe guy) sticking together longer. Of course, that would probably require shifting the focus more to Scott.
As it is, the film works. But it’s not going to rock the foundations of the action movie genre either. I said it wasn’t a Segal film, but it feels like the movie Segal thought he was making when he was filming his many, many works.