Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)

It only takes acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh’s kick-ass action movie Haywire five minutes to show every other recent punch-and-kick flick how authentic and bruising fisticuffs scenes are really done. In what’s the opposite of a time waster, we’re immediately introduced to the enigmatic allure of one Mallory Kane, a special-ops specialist played by MMA star, and first-time actress, Gina Carano: As a former colleague (Channing Tatum) informs her over coffee, their one-time bosses are looking for her with the worst of intentions, and, as her pretty boy cohort swiftly learns, Kane can whoop a man’s ass with brute quickness. Mopping the floor with Tatum inside a quaint diner, Carano displays fighting skills unseen in a Hollywood action picture in years, with every bone-crunching and pulverizing sound heightened by Soderbergh’s clever decision to turn the film’s pulsating jazz score off whenever it’s time to scrap.

Fast-paced and breakneck with its violence, Haywire’s opening scene is a fitting primer for a lean, mean exercise in whipsmart action filmmaking that’s devoid of computer enhancement or visibly different stunt-persons for the leads. The script, written by Soderbergh’s old friend Lem Dobbs (the two worked together on 1999’s underrated The Limey), is somewhat pedestrian, pitting Carano’s steely Kane against a crew of male adversaries, led by Ewan McGregor and Michael Douglas, all looking to flat-line her after she and Tatum rescue a marked-for-death Chinese journalist in Barcelona. Kane quickly catches wind of the plan to off her, a realization that comes when she viciously manhandles a two-timing operative (man of the hour Michael Fassbender) in a posh hotel room.

Kicking Fassbender through a glass door, ramming his skull into a television set, and crushing his neck with her thick (in all the best ways) thighs, Carano pulls off the ambitiously stripped-down fight sequence like a pro—similar to Haywire as a whole, the scene’s physicality is the real draw, not what it means for any of the characters or the plot-line. And fortunately, the rest of Haywire is all about Kane’s path of destructive self-defense. Despite her inexperience, Carano is entirely convincing as a female Van Damme; though at times her line deliveries coldly robotic, and she often seems bored when Haywire is in its brief talky stretches, the gorgeous acting rookie’s proficiency in the body-dropping department give her plenty of on-screen magnetism.

To Carano’s benefit, everyone else around her hams it up with the aplomb of A-listers fully aware that they’re kicking back in a romp that’s about their female co-star, not them. Antonio Banderas, in particular, lays the sleaze on extra thick as the orchestrator of Kane’s possible death ride. He’s not the only, though; notice the vigor in which Douglas fires off the goofy yet fun line, “We got ourselves a real Twizzler here.” Powered by Soderbergh’s slick direction and Carano’s star-making presence, the simplistic and unassuming Haywire is more like a can of Jolt cola, one served by a beautiful woman who’ll snuff a fool for tipping cheaply.

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