6 Underground is simultaneously shit-hot nonsense of the highest order and every bit the Netflix-bound meditation on Michael Bay’s cinematic existence as The Irishman was for Martin Scorsese or Roma was for Alfonso Cuarón.
As espoused by the film’s incessant voiceover — timed with “previously on” precision for inevitable viewing interruptions and primed for lizard-brain catatonia into which 6 Underground lulls you — the film’s thesis statement is that you find the freedom to do whatever you want if everyone thinks you’re dead.
To Michael Bay, death is a deposit upon rocky shoals after wrecking a Transformers franchise with the fat-budgeted fifth film that suggested knights and Autobots shared a Round Table. Bay’s freedom? A blank check from Netflix to direct a $150-million action epic so ghoulish and gory it makes Bad Boys II feel like it was already edited for TNT. 6 Underground is a popped-bottle bacchanal of bad taste in which people ping-pong of Porsches, pillars and pavement, like the death scene in Meet Joe Black transplanted into Vice City and looped again and again and again. Fear not, for their eulogies have corporate sponsorship and any revolution for which they fall will be accompanied by a Bishop Briggs banger.
There are so many flashbacks, flash-forwards, flash-sidewayses and flash-perpendiculars that you suspect the whole thing might be a coke-seizure Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge with Ryan Reynolds’ character hemorrhaging on an Abu Dhabi veranda. To suggest Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick wrote the script on a cocktail napkin suggests there was any integrity left to said napkin’s fibers and that they didn’t just leave random scribbles on a wet trail of tatters still left under their drinks (a Captain Morgan, perhaps, or maybe Ryan Reynolds’ Aviator gin, either one of them preferably mixed with Sprite). 6 Underground certainly never pretends there’s anything important about the exigent circumstances that precipitate our heroes’ intervention to stage a coup in the fictitious Turgistan — a name South Park really should’ve gotten to first.
And yet 6 Underground is another of Michael Bay’s distinctly prodigious achievements — in which, again, he has truly outdone himself. For what can a man yet achieve on a 55-foot screen after clanging a pair of planets together in Transformers: The Last Knight as if they were intergalactic testicles? Why not explore the frontier of the 55-inch screen? The limited theatrical release of 6 Underground ends my nearly quarter-century streak of seeing every Michael Bay film in a theater. But honestly? This is a film that has been harnessed for HDR presentation. To watch it with Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos is to understand how Netflix can now rival a theatrical experience in your home — to a point where it feels like a Harrier jet hovering above your head. For chrissakes, Bay drops a THX test tone into the middle of an action sequence BECAUSE HE CAN.
Call this movie The ADHD Team, as a soldier-of-fortune sextet — known only to the audience and each other by their numbers — slingshots around the planet to take down the scum de la scum. They’re led by #1 (Reynolds), a billionaire whose work on magnets would blow ICP’s minds and who funds his own private vigilante squad after faking his death in a plane crash.
#2 (Mélanie Laurent) is a former CIA spook, #3 (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) is a hitman with a guilty conscience, #4 (Ben Hardy) is a parkour expert, #5 (Adria Arjona) is a doctor and #6 … well, #6 goes pop six squish uh-uh Cicero Lipshitz in an Italian car chase that’s like Bay-be Driver. The nearly 20-minute sequence offers two needle-drops from Muse, numerous songs from some bottom-shelf knockoff of Imagine Dragons and the most aggressively idiotic uhn-tiss version of O Fortuna you could imagine. Blood spurts from an open gunshot wound into someone’s mouth. A rocket shatters someone’s face in slow-motion before it explodes. A gaggle of nuns gives Reynolds the finger. It’s morally repugnant … and unabashedly triumphant.
But what goes wrong in Florence means #1 will need a replacement to complete the mission: Depose the tyrannical leader of Turgistan (played by Lior Raz) and install his more peaceful brother (Payman Maadi) as its head of state. This is generally referred to as a coup. Have you heard that word before? Some of 6 Underground’s characters haven’t. Maybe you have. But if you’re not sure, there’s Mélanie Laurent in sexy lingerie to explain what it means.
It would be one thing if the music supervisor had ponied up for the Sneaker Pimps song with which 6 Underground shares its name. But the film doesn’t, necessitating the question: Why does this team need six people, exactly? And wouldn’t it make sense to recruit another driver a la #6 instead of a military sharpshooter who goes on to be known as #7 (Corey Hawkins)? Did #1 expect #6 to die all along? Maybe. That’s all folded into how 6 Underground rides the line that Reynolds might perhaps just be an extremely likable sociopath: Call him Elan Musk. Hell, by the time 7 Underground or maybe 8 rolls around, we’ll probably find out that is his name. There is a literal last-minute reveal about #1 intended to illustrate his elusive humanity that instead, quite frankly, confirms your suspicions that he is, indeed, a gargantuan asshole.
Anyway, the dictator of Turgistan is a much worse guy than #1. After his top four generals are assassinated, he summons the next four in line for promotion … and tosses them off a tower in his town out of suspicion they did all the killing. There’s a scene where he watches some of his other atrocities on a program called 90 Minutes. Certainly, this whole thing exceeds every expectation you might have of its madness by about 50%. There’s also an extended bit where Bay inserts scenes from, and discussion about, Richard III. Yeah, that Shakespeare guy was pretty good. But wouldn’t it be cool if you could turn Bosworth Field into a giant fucking magnet?
The answer? Yes. Hell yes. What else could the answer be in a film that amounts to Bay edging for 127 minutes and perhaps transmitting some tantric skills to us by way of osmosis? Bay’s only note from Netflix seems to have been to wrap it up in two hours. That can’t stop this from feeling like the Cuba coda of Bad Boys II from its first to last minute. The aforementioned car chase will make you drop your jaw with the violent audacity of Bay’s vaudevillian mortician approach. A second-act siege in Hong Kong might be the best American-film action sequence to ever be set in the special administrative region. And yes, something eventually gets turned into a giant magnet to afford jokes about nutshots and killshots.
Stupid. Offensive. Glorious. Generally indefensible. Undeniably entertaining. Classic Bay.