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6 Underground is Michael Bay’s bid for 2019’s most offensively American film. Sadly for all, it’s a successful bid indeed.
With 6 Underground, Michael Bay has directed the kind of film Donald Trump would surely enjoy screening at the White House. It is an incomprehensible, shallow abomination of filmmaking that the orange man would likely relate to. Ostensibly, the film is about an American billionaire who fakes his death for the freedom to sort out some really bad guys, without all the “red tape” that comes with being alive. I’m sure President Fantastic has similar fantasies every time he’s asked to read the written word.
Now, I never write off anything I’m yet to see, and I honestly hope that each new Michael Bay film is a good one. Bad Boys was good fun in the day; the first Transformers was a decent popcorn flick; and, as much as Bay overwhelmingly makes garish trash, I admire that he has a filmmaking identity – you know when you are watching Bay Trash. Indeed, he’s arguably a contemporary auteur for lowest-common denominator blockbusters. Quality permitting, I’m a big fan of mainstream action movies. So, bring on the Bay.
Additionally, 6 Underground stars Ryan Reynolds, whose star I’ve followed since his breakthrough in US sitcom Two Guys and a Girl. Reynolds has had an uneven path to his recent post-Deadpool comedic success, leading more turkeys than hits on his way to shaking the college rom-com roles dogging him since Van Wilder. It’s been great for such a hilarious, handsome talent get his due – perhaps helped by the media absence of rival-Ryan Gosling. A high proportion of onscreen Reynolds is usually worth ticket price alone.
Better yet, there is no single price of admission for 6 Underground! It’s on Netflix, so we can beam Baynolds’ creation right into our mind-brains without moving a muscle. Which is good, because the less energy expended on this cultural black hole, the better. Nonetheless, Netflix deigned to blow $150 million on manifesting Bay’s latest race to the bottom of his own tastes, and so here it is.
After faking his death in a Top Gun-style piloting accident, Reynolds sets about recruiting a crack team of caricatures to fill out his crew of ambiguously benevolent mercenaries. Somehow, he convinces each to likewise pretend-die to become “ghosts” and exist off-grid, while remaining the loudest, most obnoxious and destructive deceased folk you could imagine. These “6” are now “underground”.
They’re known by number, meaning Reynolds is One, Melanie Laurent is Two, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo is Three, Ben Hardy Four, Adria Arjona Five and Dave Franco Six. While Dave Franco’s presence in a film is rarely good news, otherwise you have a very high calibre of international talent. They’re variously dubbed “The Doctor”, “The Hitman”, etc. but are basically indistinguishable in skill set. Except for Four, who is by far the most ineffective – save for some Sweet Parkour Skills he is often being beaten up by/in lavish swimming pools.
Their plan is to topple a ruthless dictator in Turgistan, continuing the grand ‘x-istan’ tradition of American terrorist fiction. Honestly it doesn’t matter how, but they want to stage a coup and install his peaceful brother. This amounts to nothing more than a confused framing device for the two hours-plus of quips, explosions and casual racism and xenophobia. They really do trot the globe, and seem to destroy or offend more or less all of it.
Other problems abound: we don’t learn anything about the characters. There’s the lamest wisp of character development – “we’re not a family” to “we’re a family!” All of the women onscreen are treated to Bay’s patented Leering Lens. It’s entirely devoid of emotion, despite the best efforts of a slow piano note telling us the moment is “tense”. You don’t care what happens and you forget about it as soon as it has.
While I have nothing but disdain for literally all of the creative choices made in 6 Underground, it is actually very well made. With the combined powers of a Netflix budget and drone technology, Bay has gone to town. The problem is that it’s neither funny nor interesting, and huge portions of it are unintelligible due to the endlessly shifting time-frame and altitudes. This is the kind of film where a joke is simply saying the word “snatch” over and over in extremely fast cuts.
Another gag is a member of foreign aristocracy being afraid of heights, so the solution is punching him repeatedly in the face attempting to knock him out, which Reynolds then apologises for. This feels like a neat summary of the film’s approach to international diplomacy and the audience’s sensory engagement. Why, Ryan, why?
6 Underground is uhh…streaming on Netflix now. I’m not even going to link it — go do your own dirty work.
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I write about and curate film, based in Birmingham. Programme Coordinator for World of Film International Festival, screening new independent world cinema in Glasgow and beyond. Equally devoted to the popular and the niche. Lover of live music, hardcore punk and festival season.