It's hard to believe Hollywood's recent action heroines — slender-framed, if not waifish, stars like Salt's Angelina Jolie, Colombiana's Zoe Saldana, and Underworld's Kate Beckinsale — could win a fight in real life. So thank Steven Soderbergh, says Dodai Stewart at Jezebel, for Gina Carano. The former MMA (mixed martial arts) fighter and American Gladiator star was handpicked by the director to lead an impressive ensemble — including Michael Douglas, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, and Channing Tatum — in his latest flick, Haywire, about a betrayed black-ops soldier (Carano) who embarks on her own revenge mission. Finally, says Stewart, a female action star who "could actually crack your skull in a beatdown." But does she have the acting chops to carry a movie?

Yep. And then some: Consider Carano a refreshing rebuke to Jolie in Salt, Beckinsale in Underworld, or the "feisty schoolgirls of Sucker Punch," says Stephanie Zacharek at Movieline. Her "muscles are obviously mighty, yet they have the softness of feminine curves." And her believability as an action heroine makes her at once "more purposeful and more casual" than her predecessors. When Carano is violently hurled against a wall, you know she could take it in real life. She's Haywire's best asset, the key to making it a "wickedly entertaining film" that's both "brutal and laced with grim humor."
"Gina Carano takes no prisoners in wickedly entertaining Haywire"

She's strong… just not as an actress: With an attractive "lighthouse smile" and captivating fight skills, Carano is a tailor-made action star, says Richard Corliss at TIME. Too bad she's missing "the ferocious radiance" you'd expect from watching her MMA fights on TV, and the "character nuances of other strong ladies in peril," like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill or Jolie in Salt. Still, "for those who yearn to see a woman beat the crap out of Channing Tatum… this is your movie."
"Soderbergh's Haywire: Good workout, not so good movie"

The real problem is that the film under-uses her: Carano's cool, controlled presence elevates every scene of Haywire, and she's never more fun to watch than when she's chasing down targets and pummeling them, says Joe Neumaier at The Daily News. If anything, the film needs more Carano. Soderbergh unwisely misuses her as "a secret weapon he never fully unloads." She's not given the opportunity to fully emote or to kick ass to her full potential.
"Steven Soderbergh's Haywire lands a haymaker with fight star Gina Carano"