Photo captionDirector Steven Soderbergh’s new film, centered around an assassination attempt, pairs relative newcomer Gina Carano with established actors like Michael Douglas and Ewan McGregor.[/media-credit]

On the heels of the successful American version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” Hollywood shows once again that damsels aren’t always in distress. Some cause it.

In “Haywire,” the latest thriller from director Steven Soderbergh (“Contagion”), a highly skilled operative (Gina Carano, “Blood and Bone”) seeks revenge after her employer and ex-lover (Ewan McGregor, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”) tries to have her killed.

Mallory Kane (Carano) is on the run after Kenneth (McGregor) sends her on what he describes as a “two-day vacation” in Ireland. What starts as a cocktail party with an MI6 agent ends with a murder attempt as the agent assaults Kane. Kane defeats him after a physical struggle then realizes her boss had set her up to be executed.

Kane cooperates with a government agent (Michael Douglas, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”), investigating the validity of a rescue mission a week earlier in Barcelona that ensues in a dangerous game of cat and mouse with Kenneth.

In the film’s initial flashback to that supposed rescue mission in Barcelona, Kane unnecessarily kills the kidnapper of a journalist held captive. When a fellow operative asks why, she replies, “I don’t like to leave loose ends.” And throughout “Haywire,” she, Kenneth and Soderbergh himself leave no business unfinished.

The appeal of “Haywire” lies first and foremost with the mesmerizing moves of its protagonist. Mixed Martial Arts master Carano – also known as “Crush” on “American Gladiators” – literally rolls with the punches, defeating a series of male antagonists with grace and ease through incredible physical prowess and martial arts ability. And in the Ireland chase scene, she makes buildings, pipes and streets elements of her personal urban jungle gym.

But, since this is a movie and not a fighting arena, it’s disappointing when her charisma crumbles as she stumbles through simple, mundane lines of dialogue. Although her emotionless, monotonous tone gives her personality an icy edge, it’s mostly a distraction from the narrative; most of her scenes with better-seasoned actors like McGregor are aesthetically and conversationally disjointed.

On a similar note, some elements of the film don’t go above or beyond audience expectations for today’s action movies – fast editing sequences, slow motion and chase scenes run rampant throughout – but Soderbergh manages to add a glossy finish with beautiful landscape and city shots, impressive use of stunt work, interesting camera placement during fight scenes and an alluring score.

From an aural perspective, silence seems to play almost as big of a role as David Holmes’ score. The pairing of Kane’s stoic demeanor with silence is discomforting, creating anticipation and dread for trouble around the corner, which, awkwardly, doesn’t always come. But in flashbacks and some action-packed scenes, Holmes’ score, with a funky beat and sexy horn section, evokes the glamour of a ’70s spy movie.

The plot also takes an interesting angle, and its political implications are unclear. In many spy movies like these, agents go rogue and/or off the grid after an employer-led betrayal – typically after a conspiracy by the government or police. Here, though, the bad guys are in the private sector and the government actually helps her. But although Kane doesn’t have to be alone in the fight against Kenneth, she chooses to be.

Carano’s Kane at times pales in comparison to the color added by actors in supporting roles. Most notably, Bill Paxton (“Big Love”) makes an appearance as Kane’s adorably concerned father who tries not to interfere as she hides in his house. And Douglas shines as a smooth-talking agent who is much less slimey than many of his roles.

Soderbergh slathers on an abundance of eye candy in “Haywire” with breathtaking cinematography, the always dreamy McGregor and exquisitely badass Carano. These elements, plus the way the film world’s chronology is manipulated throughout, makes the story somewhat compelling, and for those who enjoy moderate amounts of physical violence and fighting, moderately entertaining.

It’s a fun ride, but without more charisma from Carano, it’s like one on a mechanical bull – dangerous, with plenty of action, but easy to get thrown off.

Three out of five stars