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"6 Underground" Review

When the trailer dropped for 6 Underground the first question many people had was, "Michael Bay made a movie for NETFLIX?" How could all that shiny Bayhem fit on anything less than the megaplex's big screen? After watching it, my question is how could Bay, the writers of the Zombieland and Deadpool series, and Ryan Reynolds make such a muddled, tonally dissonant, unfun movie and burn a reported $150 million of Netflix's dollars in the process.

After an odd opening scene where Reynold's character is faking his death in a crash of the Red Bull racing plane (so much product placement in this movie), the opening sequence is a chaotic car chase set in Florence, Italy introducing Reynold's crew of numbered (no names) associates as they flee....something (it's not clear like most of this movie), some sort of mission gone wrong with one woman on the team shot and Reynolds holding an eyeball. Running nearly 20 minutes long, it feels like Bay watched Baby Driver and said, "Hold my beer, Edgar Wright."

It ends with their wheelman (Dave Franco) dead, so Reynold's One needs to find a Seven and that turns out to be a depressed former Delta Force sniper (Corey Hawkins) who wasn't allowed to take out a truck bomb in Afghanistan and his comrades were killed. One promises that he'll never make him hold his fire, so Seven fakes his death, witnesses his funeral at Arlington, and joins One's squad of colorful one-dimensional stereotypes.

One's backstory is that he was a prodigy who became a tech billionaire with powerful magnet tech, but maintained a low profile that a billionaire who looks like Ryan Reynolds can easily pull off. (Note: sarcasm.) In a flashback we see his impetus for the team's Big Mission: While doing a publicity visit at a refugee camp in (fictional Central Asian country) Turgistan where he planned to pose for photos appearing to care before cutting a fat check and splitting the scene, he narrowly survived a nerve gas attack by the local dictator. Outraged that the "civilized world" wasn't doing anything, he's faked his death and assembled the team to pull of a wildly complicated coup d'├ętat scheme involving killing Turgistan's top generals then breaking the dictator's brother out of a luxury penthouse in Hong Kong he's detained in.

6 Underground's fatal structural problems emerge rapidly after the whiz-bang opening as we delve into One and Seven's backstories. They're simply too grimly realistic in contrast to the cartoony bloody mayhem before. Since anonymity is supposed to be the team's protective shield - "Invisibility is a Ghost's superpower," One lectures - hitman Three isn't supposed to be visiting his Alzheimer's stricken mother in the nursing home, but this humanizing transgression is followed by One threatening to kill him if he does it again.

Is he serious? It's hard to tell from Reynolds' performance, but that's the fault of the screenplay by Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese. The difference in quality between the first and second films of their Deadpool and Zombieland series was pretty stark, but that doesn't explain this mess. It's as if they had index cards with notes like "Tony Stark + Deadpool = One" and "bad dictator is bad" and "Hong Kong = China $$$" and they just put them in a pile with no concern about minor things like character, plot, logic, emotions, or anything much. The Bayhem™ will carry them. So we get typical Reynolds' snark which is starting to wear thin with repetition and a few hints at depth quickly glossed over by the filmmakers choice to be all frosting, little cake.

Because the tone whipsaws too much, the perfectly polished set pieces and locations just pass before the viewers glazed eyes. Bay movies are notorious for their rapid editing pace, but he always manages to make every fleeting frame shine like a million dollars. There will be soap bubbles floating in a background or the camera pushes past a couple sipping tea overlooking the car chase; details that took someone a lot of time to put in place and are completely superfluous. (I'm surprised it doesn't take years to shoot a Bay film, but this reportedly took just over four months.) If we could have cared just a little about what was going on

While pondering whether it would've been even possible to balance splashy comic action mayhem and a heavier subtext, I remembered Bay had done something similar with his second movie, the 1996 Nicolas Cage-Sean Connery vehicle The Rock which had as its inciting incident a rogue band of Marines stealing nerve gas weapons to blackmail the government into paying compensation to families of black ops warriors who died in action.

That's some heavy stuff and the actions the Marines take got pretty extreme, but the balance between that and Cage's post-Oscar peak-Nineties popcorn movie phase antics (he'd follow this with Con Air and Face/Off) and Connery's grumpy old spy held together. (The Rock was in the Criterion Collection!) 6 Underground doesn't even seem to know what it's trying to do, so it just turns everything up to 12 and calls it a day. (Speaking of which, if you want to use your home theater's subwoofers to help find loose and rattling paneling in your basement, this is the movie to provide the boom in your room.)

Netflix is in a transition period with its feature movie productions. The hit-to-miss ratio has been rather sketchy, but the past few years have seen notable quality improvements with multiple Oscar nominations and wins, culminating in a studio-leading 24 in this year's race led by The Irishman and Marriage Story. More and more big names are making films for them and a balanced diet of lofty artistic movies and popcorn munchers is to be expected. Unfortunately, 6 Underground is the unpopped kernel in the bottom of the bucket.

If you want a better military caper flick, try the flawed-but-OK Triple Country, also a Netflix Original.

Score: 2/10.Skip it and watch to this Sneaker Pimps' video instead. (Kelli Ali is pretty hot.)


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