THE STORY – Six individuals from all around the globe, each the very best at what they do, have been chosen not only for their skill, but for a unique desire to delete their pasts to change the future.
THE CAST – Ryan Reynolds, Mélanie Laurent, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Adria Arjona, Payman Maadi, Corey Hawkins, Ben Hardy & Dave Franco
THE TEAM – Michael Bay (Director), Paul Wernick & Rhett Reese (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 128 Minutes
By Josh Parham
The parade of prolific filmmakers who have found solace in Netflix to get their latest creative visions funded seems never-ending these days. The likes of Alfonso Cuarón, Ava DuVernay, Noah Baumbach, and even Martin Scorsese, have turned to the streaming behemoth in order to achieve the necessary financing and resources to support their work. It seems only logical that yet another director would take the next step in working with this company. At the same time, it seems strange that Michael Bay, whose style indulges in grandiosity with every frame, would end up with a service that heavily promotes an at-home experience. Still, here he is with yet another piece of work, one that provides one of the most puzzling cinematic experiences of the year.
The plot of “6 Underground” – or whatever string of events that are assembled together that can be called one – centers on a group of trained killers that come from various worlds of government espionage and hired goons. They have all staged their own deaths to erase their previous identities and have chosen only to be referred to as a number to enforce anonymity. The ringleader is One (Ryan Reynolds), an off-kilter billionaire whose intentions are to use this group as a means to rid the world of various evildoers. This particular mission is set on the removal of a brutal dictator through a coup in the fictional Middle Eastern country of Turgistan (a plan the film sees absolutely nothing wrong with given the great track record of coups throughout history), and you can bet there are many explosions and dead bodies along the way.
Michael Bay, for better or worse, has a distinct style to him that many find endearing. His results have varying degrees of success, but even amongst the trash, there can be something to enjoy. However, a strange sensation takes hold when watching “6 Underground”. While it has many of the usual hallmarks of his previous films – large-scale action, disorienting editing, contrived plot mechanics, awkward comedic beats, shameless product placement, and scantily-clad women for no good reason – it all feels so much more unadulterated here, and by that nature, feels less polished. The structure is poorly assembled and every character is given very little emotional depth. Even the action sequences, some impressive and others shockingly amateurish, seem to materialize so quickly and are dependent on the silliest of premises that it’s difficult to take them seriously. Not that this is something one should always be concerned about with a Michael Bay film, but the lack of clarity is straining even by these standards.
Complaining about a bad script in a film like this feels like a moot point because, at the end of the day, this director never seems to stick to it that faithfully. Still, there are basic procedures that aren’t properly set up and seemingly important threads that never receive a follow-up. Again, one is not used to taking these criticisms seriously amongst all the Bayhem, but it feels more pronounced here. It feels that way in particular because from the moment the film begins, this world is never given a solid foundation and the rules remain mailable. The sense of self-reflecting irony that could be present is completely muddled by this material’s lack of engagement with its story and characters. It’s difficult to say how much of that is blamed on Bay or the writers, but it’s quite a deficiency the film faces.
Performances are usually not something one looks to single out in these types of films either, though there is a level of charm that the actors can bring to the table that makes them an engaging screen presence. Reynolds certainly has that charm within him, though it’s squandered here, as his irreverent quirks basically feel like a degraded version of his “Deadpool” persona (although, the film is written by the same writers). The rest of the team is filled with talented actors from the likes of Mélanie Laurent and Corey Hawkins, but they are given so little to do that they barely register at all. Even an appearance by Payman Maadi as the dictator’s kinder brother is completely wasted in that thankless role.
The notion that one is struck with while watching “6 Underground” is that it’s like viewing a Michael Bay dream. This isn’t to say it’s like watching a fantasy from the director. It’s more like a literal dream: pure, undiluted id that flashes images in a manner that tries to connect themselves but is only comprehensible to the one who created it. Watching Bay’s latest is a disorienting experience, one that recognizes all of the traditional trappings of his previous films without nearly the same amount of engagement or charm. There’s something to be said about a film that provides such a unique viewing, but it’s closer to the realm of enjoying a film for how bad it’s executed and not for how well it succeeds on its own merits. Bay lives off this kind of spectacle, and at least on the smaller screen, one can pause and take a break from the utter chaos that unfolds.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Some impressive action sequences.
THE BAD – A weak script filled with hollow characters and an uninteresting plot. The direction creates a spectacle that’s disorienting, convoluted and badly edited. The performances feel lazy and uninspired.