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haywire03“Haywire,” a new action film from “Ocean’s 11” director Steven Soderbergh isn’t so much a movie as it is a showcase for the lithe athleticism of its star Gina Carano. Imagine an MMA match with a storyline and you get the idea.

Carano, the former champion mixed martial arts fighter, plays Mallory Kane, a mercenary who specializes in the dirty jobs that governments like to freelance out. Her idea of relaxation is “a glass of wine and gun maintenance.” Following a successful hostage rescue in Barcelona her handler Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) dispatches her to Dublin. There she teams with an MI5 operative (Michael Fassbender) only to discover she has been double-crossed. Angry, she Muay Thai’s herself back to the United States searching for clues and revenge.

Does the story mater? Nope. Not one bit. It’s the usual medium to complicated undercover spy tale—the kind that wraps up all the loose ends with a bit of exposition and some well chosen flashbacks at the end—but you don’t go to see “Haywire” for the story.

The movie is at it’s best when Carano is on the move, running, jumping, and kicking the snot out of her opponents. Soderbergh tosses in an action scene every ten minutes or so, but the violence here feels different. Sure necks get broken and people get shot in the face but unlike most action flicks Soderbergh doesn’t amp up the sound to go along with the punches, kicks and gunshots. Many films exaggerate the combat noises to add excitement, “Haywire” doesn’t. It trusts the fight choreography and because the violence isn’t particularly cartoony it doesn’t need to be juiced up.

The fights feel authentic—no CGI, few stunt people—a testament to Carano’s obvious fighting skills and Soderbergh’s wise decision to underplay the violence.

“Haywire” feels like a grrrl power version of a mid-80s Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. Of course it is elevated by the presence of actors like Fassbender, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas and Bill Paxton but at its heart it is a scrappy action movie that would play best in drive-ins and grindhouses.

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