I love mixed martial arts. It's competition that's free of metaphor. The guy that loses is the guy on the ground, bloodied, beaten, and who might look like this when all is said and done. But I like fiction too. And so the question on my mind is not simply ‘when is Gina Carano coming back to MMA?', but also ‘when is the action film coming back?'
To answer the former, we have to refer back to Gina Carano's non-answers. In speaking with Sergio Non, she's incredibly vague. But you understand where she's coming from. When asked what reasons she has for returning (or not):
I know that there's so much that you can do in a lifetime with acting and there's only a certain amount of time you can fight. I'm keeping all these things in mind. I'll definitely know a lot more in a couple of months.
Carano is juggling two careers, and both are primarily interested in youth. Especially for a woman in acting, unless your name is Meryl Streep or Helen Mirren. Gina's 29, so she doesn't have to worry about finding herself in Oscar-bait biopics. There's another reason she'll never have to worry about that and we'll get to that in a second.
So what has happened to the action film? Is Haywire the movie to breathe new life into it? It's strange to think that Steven Soderbergh, the director of films like Traffic, Ocean's Eleven, Solaris, and Out of Sight, is the man to potentially revive it. The film's score by David Holmes seems to be aware of this question with its old school vibe.
I'd say it comes close. Not with its sum, but with its parts. Elements of the film work on their own, like the aforementioned score. Soderbergh's film, most of which is shot on location, is also visually stunning. And the action is some of the best you've seen in years.
In particular, Gina's fight with Michael Fassbender's character (known to casual moviegoers as ‘Magneto' from X-Men, and as the officer that gets shot one too many times in the balls in Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Bastards) is one of the best fight scenes I've ever seen. It's brutal, graphic, and never once does the camera shake around epileptically (?) to hide the stunt doubles posing for the cast.
If there's a weak link it's in the plot, which I should probably outline. Gina Carano plays Mallory Kane, an ex-covert ops specialist that as action movie mechanics would have it "gets double crossed". It's the plot of basically every movie starring Jason Statham. It's an espionage film and a revenge film all at once, but never manages to explore what makes either compelling, and we end up with a watered down version of each.
So while the director makes it visually interesting, there's never any real substance. All the great actors exist mostly in the background. It's Carano's movie, so how does she fare?
Luckily Carano doesn't have much to do except look attractive and kick ass. Thankfully, she excels at both. And Soderbergh is intelligent enough to keep her dialogue minimal, since well, she's not a good actress. But it's her first time, against some real heavyweights, and she's nothing if not charismatic. It helps that we first meet her character in a truly fantastic fight scene against Channing Tatum (of all people) at a diner. So we're rooting for her from the get go despite the AVR mess with her voice (her voice was tinkered with in the editing room, and it sticks out like a sore larynx).
MMA fans, always the insular bunch, have been pretty harsh on her acting, but the critics seem to be buying what she's selling. Sitting at a comfortable 82% on rotten tomatoes, Haywire has been given the thumbs up by proper critics like Roger Ebert, and respected 'counter culture' online critics like Devin Faraci, and Matt Goldberg. It's a film worth watching, although I wouldn't consider it a great film. As Tim Kelly of Chud notes, "it's not a smart film, but it's a smartly crafted film".
More importantly, it's a smartly crafted action film. I don't know when the action film died but I miss the John McTiernan that gave us Predator, and Die Hard instead of Rollerball and Basic. I miss the days when Renny Harlin's crowning achievement was Cliffhanger (best trailer for a big Hollywood action film ever).* I especially miss the days when action films were written by Shane Black.
In short, I want my action films back. I suspect Soderbergh does too, which is why Haywire is so well made despite being a middling film. The film clocks in at approximately 90 minutes, but I'd recommend the film as a rental if nothing else.
With 145 in limbo thanks to the champ, 'Cyborg' Santos testing positive, it's unlikely we'll see Carano back in the cage. Not only does she fight in a division that is a veritable wasteland ruled by a now-disgraced champ who barely even has estrogen, but Hollywood will reward Carano with more offers. She'd be wise to take them while the female MMA landscape is experiencing nuclear winter. As for Haywire, like I said, it's an unspectacular film with some spectacular moments.
6 Stanozolol injections out of 10.
*I hear The Raid is pretty good.