Principal Cast : Ryan Reynolds, Melanie Laurent, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Ben Hardy, Adria Arjona, Dave Franco, Corey Hawkins, Lior Raz, Peyman Maadi, Yuri Kolokolnikov, Kim Gold, Lidia Franco, James Murray.
Synopsis: After faking his death, a tech billionaire recruits a team of international operatives for a bold and bloody mission to take down a brutal dictator.
There’s no mistaking it. 6 Underground is definitely a Michael Bay movie. The director, who claimed fame for Bad Boys, The Rock and Armageddon before plunging into the world of giant fighting robots with the increasingly banal Transformers franchise, steps back firmly into his action-movie wheelhouse with this rambunctious, off-the-wall artistic insanity that doubles down on stupidity as equally as it does the frantic and machismo-infused bombast. If nothing else, the film is worth a look purely for the bravura opening twenty minutes, which boasts one of the greatest car chase sequences ever committed to celluloid – topping the director’s famous “streetcar chase” from The Rock and the “escape from the exploding space station” theatrics of Armageddon. It’s absolutely batshit insane, this sequence, in which a lime-neon-green Alfa Romeo hurtles through the narrow streets, viaducts and various museums of Florence, Italy, pursued all the while by a plethora of faceless henchmen seemingly coming from nowhere, a masterclass of action editing and brutal, R-rated violence that simply has to be seen to be believed. Unfortunately, once that sequence concludes, 6 Underground becomes a largely formulaic, albeit exceptionally mounted, modern action trifle of half-cooked comedy, oversexualised female characters, and glorious techno-nonsense hiding a veiled commentary on US foreign policy.
After witnessing a brutal war crime in the Middle East, an American billionaire fakes his own death and recruits a team of fellow malcontents to form a vigilante squad with the sole mission to take down “the worst of the worst”. Each member of the team is simply known by their numerical designation – One (Ryan Reynolds) is the leader, a Bruce Wayne analogue with untold riches backing his ambitious and morally questionable crusade to rid the world of evil. His associates, Two (Melanie Laurent), Three (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), Four (Ben Hardy) and Five (Adria Arjona) meet newcomer Seven (Corey Hawkins), as they assemble to take down brutal dictator Rovach Alimov (Lior Raz), perpetrator of the earlier war crime, who has subjugated his country’s people in the most heinous of fashions. They intend to install Rovach’s estranged brother, the liberal and far more acceptable Murat Alimov (Peyman Maadi) to power through a coup de tat, carried out with a vast degree of luck and a whole load of improbable science.
6 Underground features everything we’ve come to expect from a Michael Bay movie. Gorgeous Magic Hour cinematography, lavish production design, spectacular stunts, hypersexualised female models draped across a variety of exotic locales, a sense of rampant misogyny, copious product placement and a kinetic, spectacularly over-the-top editorial style designed to amp up the fantastical surrealist nature of the story he’s telling. In short, it’s a bunch of slo-mo, sexy lingerie models, loads of balletic gunplay and a slew of gloriously delightful kill sequences. Bay revels in this kind of thing, this orgiastic method of action filmmaking, double-cutting through explosions and multiple deaths and human carnage like a dervish, delivering as much visceral punch as he can wring from even the silliest and off-the-wall moment possible. And the film has plenty of those, thanks to a chop-sock’em screenplay by Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese, which feels like it’s being made up as it goes but obviously isn’t, given full-blooded ADHD menace by Bay’s itchy trigger finger.
The formulaic nature of the script, which is basically a riff on films like The A Team, The Losers and even Ben Affleck’s more recent Triple Frontier, only with added methamphetamine within the film’s circulatory system, isn’t particularly clever, a bargain-basement ensemble piece working more as a way to give Ryan Reynolds more jokey dialogue and Bay more time to ogle his admittedly gorgeous female stars. The comedic elements often work, which is weird to say about a Bay film, but there’s still enough eye-rolling forced humour here that feels about as misogynistic and “male gaze” inappropriate as ever, more’s the pity. Bay is able to gloss over this mediocrity with trademark flourishes and beautiful cinematography – there’s no such thing as a visually ugly Bay film, and 6 Underground hasn’t broken that streak – so if you lean back and let the film wash over you you’ll have a blast, but actual intelligent thought about things will soon find the story and characters unravelling. As mentioned, the ensemble nature of the story enables the plot to twist and turn through a variety of “character arcs” that more or less work if you don’t think too hard, but the crucial misstep in this area is the limited impact the crucible of One’s backstory really is; his mission is born of an act of ultimate human cruelty, and yet it’s treated in such a cavalier, cartoonish manner by Bay’s overwrought camerawork it loses a lot of oomph at a critical moment.
The requisite Bay upskirt shot of a female walking away from camera with her ass right in centre-frame makes yet another appearance (gak). The classic duskshot of military equipment (in this case, helicopters) does its thing as well. The continual hyperbolic closeups of ratcheting emotional hysteria form the foundation for the film’s moist flavour, coupled with overlit sex sequences and multiple night-time sequences that never once feel underlit. There’s a swag of pseudo-patriotic flag-waving once more (something for which Bay has become as synonymous as John Woo has with doves), glorious human wreckage as bodies fly through the air from explosions, car crashes, gunfire and even magnetism (the latter of which forms the basis for one of the film’s craziest moments, in a film filled with them), and dynamic super-honed colour correction from lenser Bojan Bazelli, who has made a name for himself in Hollywood working on projects like Burlesque, The Lone Ranger, A Cure For Wellness and the last Pirates Of The Caribbean movie; 6 Underground delivers all the expected shenanigans from a director known for hysteria and overkill. The gratuitous avalanche of product placement, from Red Bull, Alfa Romeo, Lavazza coffee, to watches, alcohol and clothing, might seem disconcerting, until you remember this is a Michael Bay movie, and he’s a director who cut his teeth on commercial advertising before stepping into feature films; he knows how to deliver the best advertising bang for your buck, and it’s quite obvious a lot of companies paid a lot of money to have their products front-and-centre of frame at times in this film. I’d warrant a fair chunk of that opening twenty minutes was paid for by Alfa Romeo having one of their vehicles, in the brightest possible colour, be the centrepiece for such a sprawling and utterly ludicrous action sequence.
Now, if you can overlook allllll these problems you’ll probably have a blast with 6 Underground: I know I did. I loved it despite its problems, which either makes Michael Bay the cleverest of directors or me the stupidest of film reviewers. It’s a film for a specific audience, among whose number I obviously rank because I had a blast with this slice of Bayhem, in spite of every fibre of my being screaming at me to stop it in its tracks. Hard to imagine ever seeing a Michael Bay film land on a streaming platform like Netflix without a cinematic release (he’s still one of the most profitable film directors of all time, in terms of box-office receipts, second only to Spielberg and outranking the likes of Peter Jackson and James Cameron, which makes a Netflix debut even crazier!) but here we are. 6 Underground is loud, flashy and patently the most irredeemably ridiculous piece of trash Bay has yet vomited together from his adolescent mindset, but it ticks all the boxes you expect from the director so why the hell not enjoy it? Expecting something other than what Bay dishes up here is asking far too much from a director whose main claim to fame is blowing shit up to a soft rock soundtrack; keeping that in mind, 6 Underground is recommended for Bay fans and teenage boys.
© 2019, Rodney Twelftree. All rights reserved.