Steven Soderbergh puts on a show of force with this martial arts film but lets his A-list stars get their butts kicked by the new girl in town.

Simultaneously premiering here in the UAE, viewers are going to be spoilt for choice between Haywire and War Horse. ss versus SS. Steven Soderbergh versus Steven Spielberg. David versus Goliath. Opposite Spielberg, Soderbergh may appear to be the underdog, and as we know, everyone loves the underdog. However, this time around I am not so sure.

The plot is fairly simple with covert agent Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) accepting a ‘light’ job where she must pose as the wife of a British agent, simply known as Paul (Michael Fassbender). Arriving in Dublin, Mallory finds her contact murdered; the same person she helped rescue as a hostage just a week before. Her suspicions of being double crossed and framed are confirmed when she is attacked and nearly killed by Paul. Back in the United States, Mallory contacts agency head Coblenz (Michael Douglas) who suspects her former lover Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) of being a rogue agent. Mallory must now settle the score once and for all and heads toward a showdown in Mexico.

Seen this movie before? Sure you have. Instead of Jason Bourne, we have a female lead. How many times before have we seen a Special Ops agent who gets double crossed, then does a U-turn hell bent on revenge? Uma Thurman in the Kill Bill films. Angelina Jolie in Salt. Zoe Saldana in Columbiana and the list goes on. On top of that, there is a lot of praise for Carano doing her own stunts. Why is that so surprising when middle-aged Tom Cruise did his own stunts outside the world’s tallest building? Then again, the difference between Carano and someone like Thurman or Saldana is that the latter two are actors, whereas Carano is a former MMA fighter whose idea of acting has a lot of ‘my-foot-in-your-face’ attitude.

I am not saying that this movie is a waste of time. All I’m saying is that coming from someone like Soderbergh, you would expect an edge-of-your-seat movie experience. Like Contagion and the Oceans franchise before, you can expect Soderbergh’s hallmark plethora of A-listers in supporting roles. Having said that, shouldn’t the leading actor be as good or better than the supporting cast? Carano does try, and I think she will make an excellent action movie star, but she needs the necessary exposure as a serious actor to match her skilled abilities in martial arts. If not, I’m afraid Carano could be treading the same path as martial artist and B-movie actress Cynthia Rothrock. The remaining stars perform as expected with some good antagonism from Fassbender and McGregor. Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas are in their own comfort zones without having to do much.

For an action movie, pacing is not too bad with some equally good fight choreography. Soderbergh could be testing uncharted waters here as this is his first martial arts film and comes packed with some brutal fight scenes. One particular scene has Mallory punched, kicked and thrown around like a rag doll. Evidently, Soderbergh got it right with the fight scenes, because most other action scenes appear to be cut-copy-pasted, and comes with some of the clichés you would expect in a high end Hollywood action caper.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.