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Gina Carano stars in “Haywire” as a double-crossed secret agent.

Female action hero still denied her due

I finally got around to watching Steven Soderbergh’s “Haywire” a couple of weeks ago.

“Haywire” stars former mixed martial artist Gina Carano as a double-crossed secret agent.

Although this character and scenario are far from startlingly original, the film is fresh.

“Haywire” eschews the electroconvulsive pacing and wood-chipper editing of most action films.

I especially liked that the fight scenes were shot like “Dancing With the Stars” routines – the fight choreography is unadorned by trickery and is always easy to follow.

More often than not, a contemporary movie fight scene is about as visually coherent as a wind tunnel full of mannequin parts and carpet remnants.

Carano has been tapped to star in a film that is being billed as “a female version of ‘The Expendables,’ ” and that got me to wondering what such a spin-off might look like.

“The Expendables” series unites male action stars who were too famous in the ’80s to unite but may be too obscure in the 21st century not to.

The action genre just never produced female equivalents to Sylvester Stallone or Jean Claude Van Damme. Part of the reason for this, I think, is neatly, if paradoxically, exemplified in all that is great about “Haywire.”

Most men watching “Haywire,” whether they care to admit it openly or not, know Carano can beat them up.

Guys don’t seem to feel so bad knowing that Mark Wahlberg or LL Cool J can beat them up. But they are uncomfortable with the idea that Carano, or someone like her, can beat them up.

Where female action stars are concerned, guys are more comfortable with actresses who don’t resemble action heroes so much as they resemble fashion models who have starved themselves for the chance to wear haute couture clothing inspired by action heroes. Guys will also not readily reject an actress who looks like she has risen, Venus-like and Jessica Rabbit-like, from the pages of a comic book.

If you haven’t seen a comic book lately, suffice it to say that all the heroines are drawn as if their main archenemies are Inadequately Weened Man and Captain Resentment-Over-Having-Been-Bottle-Fed.

The movies that result from these mindsets and marketing conceits traffic in action scenes that are both overcooked and half-baked, and they wink at the mostly male audience.

They wink as if to say, “Oh sure, she may be puttin’ a whuppin’ on the bad guys now, but what she’d prefer to be doing is whipping you up a plate of fully loaded nachos and then massaging your bunions while you watch reruns of ‘Duck Dynasty.’ ”

The starlets in these entertainments, whether they are fighting zombies, werewolves, or Crispin Glover, all dress like dominatrixes.

Preparing oneself for battle with monsters and master criminals in the same way that a dominatrix might prepare herself for a sadomasochistic session with a pudgy stockbroker isn’t always an absurd thing to do.

As we are all well aware, a werewolf’s only vulnerabilities are silver bullets and silver spanking paddles.

Plus, a female action hero never can predict when she is going to encounter that 40-foot-tall super-villain known as Captain Pudgy Stockbroker. But it is an almost always absurd thing to do.

The sad truth is this: Movies like “Haywire” and “Hunger Games” notwithstanding, the female action hero has not progressed very far from the heyday of the “Charlie’s Angels” TV series.

Whatever her powers or abilities, a heroine is proudest of her mastery over sex.

Whatever weaponry is in her arsenal, a heroine never leaves home without a full battery of sexy outfits.

Correct me if I’m wrong (telepathically, I guess), but don’t you just know that a female version of “Iron Man” would never make it to the big screen without giant metal bosoms embossed in her battle armor?

A female version of “The Expendables” should really star the sort of imposing actresses and formidable athletes who actually intimidate men (Angela Bassett, Cynthia Rothrock, Michelle Yeoh and Michelle Rodriguez come to mind).

But the best we can probably hope for is actresses and performances that exemplify the phrase “tough yet vulnerable.”

Tough yet vulnerable means we can never be sure whether our female action hero is going to fight or cry.

There is only one thing we can ever know for certain: She makes a mean plate of fully loaded nachos.

Steve Penhollow is an arts and entertainment writer for The Journal Gazette. His column appears Sundays. He appears Fridays on WPTA-TV, Channel 21, WISE-TV, Channel 33, and WBYR, 98.9 FM to talk about area happenings. Email him at spen@jg.net. A Facebook page for “Rants & Raves” can be accessed at www.facebook.com/pages.

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