In this reviewer's opinion, Steven Soderbergh is slipping.  He debuted with independent hit and a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination for Sex, Lies, and Videotape at the age of 25 in 1989.  His peak time period started with the ultra-cool Out of the Sight in 1998 and continued with double Best Director nominations and one win with Erin Brockovich and Traffic. In between, he kept his indie cred with small fair like The Limey and Full Frontal.  2001's star-studded Ocean's Eleven remake became his biggest hit.  After that, it seemed to all go downhill.  His high-profile Solaris remake with George Clooney tanked and began the slide.  Both of his Ocean's sequels were fun on the surface, but flat beyond that.  His black-and-white film noir experiment The Good German tanked worse than Solaris. It's not that his films weren't well crafted or ambitious, it's just that dullness took over the cool tone we loved from before.

From there, Soderbergh seemed to retreat to his indie roots with projects like the micro-budgeted Bubble, the massive Che biopic, the quirky dark comedy The Informant!, and the documentary And Everything is Going Fine. Now wavering in his late 40's, Steven has talked retirement before turning 50 (he turned 49 two weeks ago), but is finally seeing his arrow turn around with his last two features.  Last fall's Contagion, starring a cast with four Oscar winners (Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Marion Cotillard) and three other Oscar nominees (Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, and John Hawkes), was a modest hit with its apocalyptic disease fallout and restored some of his luster.

The second feature that restores some of his shine is the new release Haywire.  Starring MMA superstar Gina Carano, making her film debut, Soderbergh taps into the intrigue and coolness he's been good at in the past, but adds a new level of velocity thanks to Carano.  The result isn't perfect, but a better than average spy mystery.

Carano plays Mallory Kane, a privately contracted covert operator employed by the American government.  An expert in many forms of contact, she naturally takes care of most of her business hand-to-hand.  Her handler is a Kenneth, an ex-boyfriend (Ewan McGregor), who himself answers to head government honcho Coblenz (Michael Douglas).  In a long flashback opening, we learn how a Barcelona job, contracted by the mysterious Rodrigo (Antonio Banderas), to rescue a person of interest didn't go down as planned for Kenneth or her fellow operator Aaron (Channing Tatum).  Whatever went wrong has been pinned on Mallory.  Soon, while working an eye-candy job with a dashing British MI6 agent (Michael Fassbender), she realizes that she's been set up.  That puts her on the run from authorities to, not only clear her name, but get revenge on those who burned her.

The plot of Haywire kind of lives up to its name.  It dances a little too much between the present and the past for the first half of the movie, taking too long for us to really get what's going on.  That said, Haywire still manages to entertain us along the way thanks to blisteringly kinetic fight scenes involving Gina Carano.  Soderbergh uses Carano's mixed martial arts talents to more than good measure with fun results.  Not since Uma Thurman's work as the Bride in the Kill Bill series has a woman done such a commanding job of kicking ass on screen.  She's worth the price of admission.  Hopefully, this is a start of a great crossover career for her.  If pro-wrestlers like John Cena and Dwayne Johnson can pull off movies, why can't Gina Carano?  She's more physically gifted than either of one of them.

LESSON #1: DON'T UNDERESTIMATE YOUR OPPONENT-- Clearly, the gentleman in this movie judged the book by its cover and forgot to check Gina Carano's resume and Mallory Kane's service record.  This girl can hang with the fellas and kick your ass.  What's that?  You brought six guys.  No, I'm sorry.  That's not going to be enough.

LESSON #2: KICK FIRST AND ASK QUESTIONS LATER-- In trying to solve her mystery of revenge for whoever burned her, Mallory is always being courted by trouble.  "You look beautiful..." KICK IN THE HEAD!  "I have a job for you..." KICK IN THE NUTS!  "How about you give me your phone number?"  DOUBLE KICK IN THE NUTS!  I see a pattern forming.  I wonder how many ass-kicking girl lessons I can make up...

LESSON #3: DON'T BRING A GUN TO A KICK FIGHT-- I'm not so sure that's true...

LESSON #4: DON'T SEND A MAN TO DO A WOMAN'S JOB-- Alright, now I'm reaching.  But she's so cool for kicking so much ass.  Ah man...

LESSON #5: MAKE SURE YOU TIE UP LOOSE ENDS-- Along the same lines as Lesson #1, the powers that be needed to cover every base and handle every contingency better than the attempt against our determined Mallory.  You have to do better than chasing someone faster than you, fighting someone better than you, or falling for the trap of bothering her father.