Haywire - Gina Carano and Michael Fassbende
Undercover operative Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) has unreliable fellow agent Paul (Michael Fassbender) right where she wants him © 2012 Relativity Media

Real-life mixed martial arts fighter Gina Carano is simultaneously busty and flat as Mallory Kane, a freelance undercover op fleeing former fellow agents in this okay but nothing special thriller. Even its title feels generic.

Carano looks good, fights convincingly and delivers her dialog with detached cool, but she’s missing the kind of movie-magic sparkle that a role like this requires. The last film that misfired in exactly the same way was 2011’s Colombiana, in which Zoe Saldana did a similar job of proving how hard it is to be Angelina Jolie. Heck, even Angelina Jolie sometimes has a hard time being Angelina Jolie.

Director Steven Soderbergh tries slicking up the proceedings with soundtrack and stylistic echoes of his Ocean’s 11-12-13 franchise, but the Lem Dobbs screenplay feels so tossed off it’s hard to get invested in the intrigue. The script’s worst sin is its structure, which requires Mallory to explain most of the story’s setup in a ridiculously unlikely car conversation with a clueless civilian named Scott (Michael Angarano).

Haywire - Ewan McGregor and Gina Carano
Employer Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) has more than a working relationship with agent Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) © 2012 Relativity Media

The movie begins with already on-the-run Mallory being intercepted at a diner by fellow agent Aaron (Channing Tatum), in a scene oddly reminiscent of the opening to last year’s Martha Marcy May Marlene. The difference is that instead of escaping a religious cult, Mallory is running for her life after being framed for the murder of a Chinese whistleblower overseas. Also, Haywire‘s confrontation involves actual fisticuffs and firepower instead of less violent forms of persuasion.

Fight-scene-wise, Haywire has such a fetish-like fondness for female face-punching that it’s hard to believe model-pretty Mallory isn’t from the planet Krypton. We see her applying a dab o’ makeup in one scene, but she takes so many kapows to the kisser that her beauty regimen also should include major reconstructive surgery.

Within Mallory’s lengthy flashback, we learn that she helped free the Chinese hostage in Barcelona, then took what was supposed to be an easy job impersonating the wife of a suavely sinister agent named Paul (Michael Fassbender). Double-crossed in Dublin, her attempt to elude capture by running over rooftops, up and down stairwells and in and out of alleys is the most well-directed and engrossing part of the film.

Ewan McGregor, sporting a shaved sidewalls mental-patient haircut that makes him look 12 years old, is Mallory’s boss and former paramour back home. The private security contractor is involved with a cold-eyed government official named Coblenz (Michael Douglas) and a shadowy Spaniard named Rodrigo (Antonio Banderas). Bill Paxton is Mallory’s ex-military dad, whose isolated New Mexico home is where she makes a defiant last stand in what apparently are supposed to be intimidating face stripes and cornrows.

The first and last word heard in the movie is “sh*t,” a fun fact that seems like a flagrant invitation for unimpressed critics to mention, but the movie isn’t all that bad. Soderbergh might have considered showing a little more respect for actual actors, however, instead of stunt-casting an attractive newcomer from outside the profession and expecting her to carry a movie.

[Rating: 2.5 stars]

Haywire opens in theaters Friday January 20, 2012

James Dawson

Jim is Film Review Online's Los Angeles based reviewer.