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Originally published Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 12:03 AM

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Movie review

MMA star Gina Carano leaps onto big screen in 'Haywire'

A review of "Haywire," an action movie starring mixed-martial-artist Gina Carano, whose strength and speed impress Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars

'Haywire,' with Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, from a screenplay by Lem Dobbs. 93 minutes. Rated R for some violence. Several theaters.

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So, what's different about an action movie starring a female martial-arts star? Before the climactic showdowns in "Haywire," Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) takes the time — not just once but twice — to put her hair into an elaborately braided style I can only call Revenge Cornrows. I suppose a simple ponytail just won't do, but doesn't she have other things on her mind? And is there a hairstylist on the lam with her, whom we never see?

It's all part of the fun of Steven Soderbergh's latest genre-hopping experiment, in which mixed-martial-arts champion Carano makes her film debut as a covert-ops specialist running for her life — and across numerous international borders — when she discovers that she's been double-crossed by her colleagues. Men get beaten up (poor Michael Fassbender gets thoroughly pummeled); a lovely hotel room in Dublin gets completely trashed; a deer meets an unfortunate demise; and Carano demonstrates an impressive variety of moves, including a rooftop chase, an ability to drive while minor surgery is performed on her arm, and a gazellelike horizontal leap in a hallway where she ends up on top of an unlucky opponent, feet high on the wall. Soderbergh directs with his usual jittery energy — fast, jagged editing; time-jumping; color melting into black-and-white and back again — all set to a jazzy David Holmes score, reminiscent of his music for the director's "Ocean's 11."

Though Carano's not exactly a skilled actress at this point (she's got a voice about as nuanced as a bullet), you don't doubt for a second that Mallory can handle herself among all this mayhem. Good actors like Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas flit through the movie, but they're not why we can't look away: Right up to the film's comically abrupt ending, it's all about Mallory's strength, speed and uncanny ability to survive. A dismissive cop, early on, refers to her as "Wonder Woman"; turns out he's not kidding.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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