“HAYWIRE” (2012) Review

“HAYWIRE” (2012) Review

Director Steven Soderbergh has directed his share of film genres, which range from the caper flick to a complex drama about the drug trade. The director finally set his sights on the action genre in a movie called “HAYWIRE”

Starring mixed martial arts fighter, Gina Carano, “HAYWIRE” is about a free-lance black operations agent who seeks revenge against her boss, after he sets her up to be framed for the death of a journalist and murdered. The story begins with Mallory Kane arriving at an upstate New York diner. After encounter with a fellow colleague named Aaron, in which a fight ensued, Mallory forces another diner to drive her to safety. During the drive, she recounts what led to her being hunted down by her employer. A week ago, Mallory and Aaron were tapped by their employer to rescue a Chinese journalist named Jiang in Barcelona. Following the success of the mission, Mallory is recruited by Kenneth to pose as the wife of a British agent named Paul in Dublin. Mallory agrees and accompanies Paul to a party at Russborough House, where they meet with his contact, Studer. When she sees Paul and Studer meet from afar and stumbles across Jiang’s dead body, Mallory realizes that she had been set up by Kenneth. She has a fight with Paul in their hotel room before she shoots him dead. After evading Kenneth’s agents and the Dublin police, Mallory leaves Ireland and makes it to the United States, and the roadhouse diner in New York. Mallory manages to evade the American police and more of Kenneth’s agents before making plans to seek revenge against him and his co-conspirators.

When I first saw the trailer for “HAYWIRE”, I must admit that it caught my interest, especially since Steven Soderbergh was the movie’s director. The positive reviews from film critics increased my anticipation to see the movie. But when I finally saw it in the theaters, my only reaction was SHEER DISAPPOINTMENT. I am sorry, but “HAYWIRE” proved to be a very disappointing movie for me. And for the likes of me, I cannot understand how it managed to earn so many rave reviews from critics.

I cannot deny that the movie had potential. Steven Soderbergh served as the film’s director. “HAYWIRE” possessed a first-rate cast that included Ewan McGregor, Antonio Bandaras, Michael Douglas, Bill Paxton, Michael Fassbender, Mathieu Kassovitz (from 2005’s “MUNICH”), Channing Tatum and Michael Angarano. And although the movie’s lead, Gina Carano, is not an experienced actress; her experiences as a mixed martial arts fighter made her fight scenes look very realistic. Somewhat. So, what went wrong with this movie?

One, I had a big problem with Lem Dobbs’ screenplay. I found it very unsatisfactory. Using flashbacks in the first half seemed unnecessary in a movie that allegedly possessed a pretty linear story. The reasoning behind Kenneth’s conspiracy with Studer and his betrayal of Mallory seemed lacking in any substance or logic. What was the conspiracy? Kenneth discovered that Mallory planned to quit his firm. Fearing that her departure would mean a major loss of customers, he plotted with a Spanish middle-man named Rodrigo, who had a client – Studer – who wanted to stop the journalist Jiang from exposing his criminal activities. Their plan? Get Mallory and Aaron to snatch Jiang in Barcelona. Get Mallory to Ireland, where she gets framed for Jiang’s death (he had been murdered by Paul) and killed by Paul. This plot seemed so fucking lame. Really. Why bother framing Mallory for Jiang’s death? It was soooo unnecessary. What is even worse about this movie is that while the movie revealed Mallory’s search for revenge against Kenneth and even Rodrigo, any attempt to go after Studer never materialized. I left the theater with one sentence ringing in my head –“Was that it?”

And I found the fight scenes seemed to lack even less logic – especially her fight with Paul in the Dublin hotel and Kenneth in Mexico. If Paul had been recruited to kill her, why do so in that ridiculous manner? As they were entering their hotel room, he was behind her. All the man had to do was shoot (with a muffler) or stab her in the back, as he was following her into the room. Instead, Paul behaved like a real amateur by striking from behind . . . and with his bare fist. ‘Amateur Hour’ continued with Mallory’s fight with Kenneth. Like Paul, she was behind her prey – her former boss – on a Mexican beach. And like Paul, she attacked Kenneth from behind with bare fists. What ensued was the lamest fight scene I have ever seen on film. Poor Ewan McGregor. A man with his grace and physicality for on-screen fighting deserved better than this.

Oscar winner Michael Douglas portrayed a U.S. government agent in “HAYWIRE”. But I never could understand the purpose of his role in the story. What was his purpose in this movie? Why was he needed? I could not tell whether he was part of Kenneth and Studer’s plot or simply their patsy. And finally we come to Gina Carano. Look, I cannot deny that she is great as an on-screen fighter. Her experiences as a mixed martial arts fighter made this possible. But she is no actress. The odd thing is that her lack of acting experience is not a problem. There have been others with very little acting experience who have proven to be pretty good in front of the camera. She is simply not one of them.

What else can I say about “HAYWIRE”? If Lem Dobbs had written a better script and if Carano’s fight sequences had been staged with a little more logic, it could have become a promising film. And while I admire Gina Carano’s martial skills, the role of Mallory Kane should have gone to someone who could both act and convey solid on-screen fighting. I have not been this disappointed by Steven Soderbergh’s work since 2004’s “OCEAN’S TWELVE”.

“THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM” (2008) Review

“THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM” (2008) Review

Set in present time South Boston and Ancient China, ”THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM” is a martial-arts/fantasy film that was directed by Rob Minkoff. The movie also co-starred two of the most famous names in the martial-arts genre – Jackie Chan and Jet Li. The movie is basically about a South Boston teenage fan of Hong Kong kung fu films, who is transported back in time to Ancient China via a magical staff. There, he must undertake a quest to free the fabled warrior Sun Wukong aka “The Monkey King”.

In a nutshell, ”THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM” is an entertaining action film with strong fantasy and comedy elements. Our two martial arts stars portray Lu Yan – the Drunken Immortal (Jackie Chan) and The Silent Monk (Jet Li), who help Boston teenager Jason Williams (Michael Angarano) free Sun Wukong (also Jet Li) from the clutches of an evil immortal called the Jade Warlord (Collin Chou).

”THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM” is not perfect. To be frank, I only have two complaints about the movie. One, the editing by Eric Strand seemed rather choppy. There were moments when the movie lacked a smooth segue from one scene to another. And two, I found the backstory for Jason’s character rather clichéd. It seemed straight out of the rulebook for typical teen angst films that started with 1979’s ”MY BODYGUARD”. You know what I am referring to – shy geeky adolescent who is terrorized by the local bully, has profound experiences before successfully confronting bully in the last reel. Come to think of it, I saw something similar in the fantasy comedy, ”STARDUST”.

Despite the above-mentioned flaws, ”THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM” is an entertaining movie. Jackie Chan and Jet Li proved that despite their different styles and approaches to the martial arts genre, they could generate screen chemistry together. Michael Angarano is perfectly disarming and funny as the Boston teen who finds himself in an unfamiliar world. Portraying his potential love interest is Liu Yi Fei as Golden Sparrow, a young female orphan who seeks vengeance against the main villain. Speaking of villains, both Collin Chou (the Jade Warlord) and Li Bingbing (Ni-Chang, the White-Haired Assassin) provided a solid villainous challenge to the four heroes.

On the surface, ”THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM” provides solid entertainment and martial arts action. However, I must commend on two matters. One, I really enjoyed the superb fight sequence between the two martial arts stars – Chan and Li. Whatever expectation I had about their fight, the two stars and fight choreographer Yuen Woo-ping more than fulfilled it. I have not enjoyed such a fight scene since Jet Li’s fight with Donnie Yen in ”HERO” or the two Michelle Yeoh/Zhang Yi fight sequences in ”CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON”. I would also like to point out the film’s cinematography shot by Peter Pau. The various landscapes of Ancient China, whether the characters are in the tropics, the forests, the desert or in the mountain regions, are exquisite.

In short, ”THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM” is an entertaining film filled with solid action, drama, comedy, and great cinematography. As long as you are not expecting another ”CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON” or ”HOUSE OF THE FLYING DAGGERS”, you will not be disappointed.