6 Underground review: Michael Bay’s $150m Netflix movie

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Ryan Reynolds leads the cast of 6 Underground, a Michael Bay film with some nuns in it – here’s our review.

It can be but coincidence that Michael’s Bay’s first production for the company arrives just weeks after Netflix started trialing variable playback speeds on its streaming service. If you missed this story, the company has been testing allowing its users to watch films at 1.5x the normal speed. Bay’s $150m action thriller is ideal fodder for it, such is its devotion to slow motion at any given moment in the film. I’ve come to conclude that if Bay took footage of a sparrow farting in Norwich, he’d find some way to get a slowing of the sequence in there. Had Netflix enacted its new feature now, I reckon the best part of ten minutes could be knocked off the 128 minute time just by accelerating these moments to a normal speed.

Anyway: 6 Underground. It’s a film penned by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Zombieland, Deadpool), that sees Ryan Reynolds leading a vigilante team of six people (also including Melanie Laurent, Corey Hawkins and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) – known only by their number – who also happen to be officially dead. This is explained via a prolonged and edited to the nth degree opening car chase, where voiceover and on-screen captions demand that you keep up. Eventually, we also learn that there’s a bad guy to take down, for reasons I can’t say I was entirely clear about.

Nonetheless, the opening 20 minutes or so is pretty much cling onto your seat time, as cars zoom around, guns are fired, nuns are nearly knocked off bikes, and a dog nods approvingly. Bay’s intention appears to be get your attention early, with some success. Hinting at a bold directorial change in direction, he holds a shot for around eight seconds at one point, but be assured that he’s soon on the move again, hitting a running woman with a bird as she carries her shopping.

Once that’s out of the way, though, the film really stumbles, as I found myself struggling to work out just what was going on. This is a globe-trotting film, but not in an earned way. It goes to assorted locations, but setting up any kind of workable geography is frowned up. Instead, there are endless onscreen captions telling you what part of the world we’re in now, and sometimes, you’ve just about finished reading one when another appears.

It gives the sense of a film that was a struggle to follow in the editing room, but rather than put the brakes on and afford the audience space to work out what’s what, out came the text overlays instead to connect the dots. I genuinely can’t remember a film that used such a technique to switch geography so often.

Geography isn’t Bay’s strength here, though. It’s telling I think that his best film, The Rock, is primarily confined to one location. Here, the film is everywhere, yet even when our vigilante chums are on a boat, there’s no setup time afforded to give the audience any sense of the layout, and what and who is where. Instead, it’s a collection of short pieces of string to get us one from action shootout to the next.

Some of those shootouts are stylish, too, and the film has a lot of fun with the suddenness of some of its kills. But as 6 Underground zips back in time, to different places, to different characters, I confess I was half yearning for Doc Brown to turn up with a board and chalk to explain it all.

I’d genuinely be fascinated to see the original script that Wernick and Reese turned in, because they’re fine writers who very much know their way around a story. I can’t help but feel that the interpretation of said script by its director left logic and an easy to follow narrative as collateral damage.

I also got a yearning for Lavazza Coffee and Monster energy drinks during the film.

It’s a bizarre cocktail this. Rarely has a film come along that has in it cauliflower, Shakespeare, enough nuns to make Michael Bay’s Sister Act 3, a regular supply of helicopters and a pink duck. Naturally, Bay throws in women in their grundies and a penis measuring joke or two as well. He’s playing very much to his home crowd, just faster and more chaotically than usual. He even films a nookie scene as if it was action.

I do feel amongst it all there’s a missed opportunity with his core cast. That he has an ensemble here that’s given no space to effectively play off each other. Remember the training sequence in Armageddon? I loved that. It showed that Bay, somewhere, has a flair for comedy, but he shows precious little interest in it.

6 Underground isn’t going to convert new people to his films, nor is it likely to dissuade anyone who has previously injected his Transformers films into their veins and wondered why all films can’t be like this. There’s something in here, but it’s hard to tell quite what it is behind the heavily stylised direction, that can’t let anyone get out of a chair without putting at least one extra cut in.

It’s a breathless, near-impossible to follow two hour plus Michael Bay film, just with added nuns.

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