01/16/2012 08:53 am ET Updated Mar 17, 2012

Movie Review: Haywire

I don't know whether Gina Carano has a future as an actress but she certainly kicks ass in Steven Soderbergh's Haywire, a jet-propelled action-thriller that has little time for wasted motion.

Working from a script by Lem Dobbs, who also wrote The Limey, Soderbergh has made an intense and intensely lean little film packed with familiar faces and dark intentions. Most of those are aimed at Carano, as Mallory Kane, an operative for a private security firm used by the government for off-the-books operations.

As the film starts, she's a fugitive from an operation gone wrong. After rescuing a hostage in Barcelona, she's stumbled on dirty business within her own organization. Now she's on the run, trying to track down her own boss to figure out why she was set up.

The story itself isn't anything special; like most films of this type, it's a math equation in which you're solving for X and there aren't a lot of choices.

But there's some serious electricity in this film because Soderbergh is so intent on simply moving forward, watching the world from Mallory's point of view and figuring things out along with her.

Carano is a mixed-martial-arts champion who Soderbergh hired for her astonishing physical prowess; in some ways, she's like a female Jason Statham -- no-nonsense, take no prisoners, lay waste now and ask questions later.

She faces off against one guy after another: Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor and a handful of nameless stuntmen. She takes her share of punishment but then pulls a Timex on her opponents: She not only keeps on ticking -- she keeps on kicking. She can smile, even dress up and be glamorous -- but she looks most comfortable when she's wearing a scowl, while banging someone's head into a wall.

I don't want to shout this movie's praises too loudly because it's neither deep nor challenging. But it is damned entertaining, full of moments that make you go "Whoa -- did I just see that?" and ones that have you grunting in sympathetic pain with Carano's victims.

Soderbergh keeps it as simple as possible, while designing a variety of breath-taking camera moves that seem to be spur-of-the-moment, whatever-works. The actual exposition -- the explanation of the plot -- is almost beside the point; we know who the heroine is and watch over her shoulder as she tries to figure out just who she can trust.

Yet she's not a solo operative running around loose in the world. At one point, she winds up at the home of her father (Bill Paxton), the writer of best-selling historical thrillers -- and we get a glimpse of his astonishment at what his daughter has become.

In some ways, Haywire is a movie on the same wavelength as David Mamet's Redbelt or Heist. It's got a job to do -- and it does it very well, without wasting time explaining itself. It's that rarity -- an action movie with intelligence.

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