From the opening scene of Haywire, a calm-then-clamorous how-do-you-do of a scene at that, we get a sense of what director Steven Soderbergh is up to in the high/low cultural playground that is his strange, cool filmography. Our highly qualified kick-ass and loveable spy heroine, Mallory Kane (Gina Carano), dispenses due process with her fighting form to get the job done, which in this case means escaping from great bodily harm. And so it goes in this fun-loving romp of a film, in which Soderbergh relishes the twist and turncoating of writer Lem Dobbs’s skullduggery-minded storyline but mostly seems interested in the cinematic energy manipulation of ebb and flow, wrassle and kapow. He wants to alternately lull, tease, and pummel our senses. Like Soderbergh’s more marquee-seizing Ocean’s Eleven through Thirteen, Haywire is a caper film of sorts, but with art and irony attached.
Not incidentally, the director also wants us to bask in the volatile glow of a beautiful female character as lethal weapon, and he has in Carano an ideal woman for the job. If the prospect of a fiery, fast spy-game heroine brings to mind Angelina Jolie in Salt, the comparison is apt, but Haywire has more to offer along the way, dipping into the pulp of the matter and allowing fun into the mix. Carano plays an operative in a covert, CIA-esque problem-solving company — in the private sector, without the pesky nuisance of accountability to get in the way — who becomes embroiled in a hostage-liberation scheme in Barcelona that grows nastily entangled in Dublin, with a climax in New Mexico, and dénouements in Mexico and Majorca.
Everywhere she goes, trouble and double-crosses follow, and we’re gradually fed more data about the puzzle of the larger narrative. Along the way, there are plenty of score-settling moments and visceral scenes of wrestling and dark horseplay with the ferocious gal spy. The choreographed fight scenes serve almost as a kind of subversive surrogate eroticism and body-contact dynamic with a femme fatale who lives up to both attributes, with a beautiful vengeance.