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‘6 Underground’ offers standard blockbuster Bayhem

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With Netflix out here throwing blank checks at cinematic auteurs, asking nothing of these filmmakers but for them to be themselves, there’s no disputing that we’re seeing some pretty incredible things spring forth from that creative freedom.

Martin Scorsese gave us “The Irishman,” a late-career masterpiece that many might not have expected Marty had left in him. Alfonso Cuaron made the beautiful and haunting semi-autobiography that was “Roma,” Noah Baumbach got to Baumbach in front of exponentially more eyeballs than ever before with “Marriage Story.” The list goes on.

However, “incredible” doesn’t always mean “good.”

This brings us to “6 Underground,” the film that is what happens when the auteur with the blank check is noted explosion fetishist Michael Bay. It is a loud, smug, barely comprehensible wad of action movie; the vibe is as though the entire thing was conceptualized on a cocktail napkin at whatever place exists on the spectrum between a Hooters and a strip club. Oh, and the lead is Ryan Reynolds playing Ryan Reynolds.

In this case, “incredible” basically means “I do not find it credible that such a movie like this exists.” By that definition, holy crap is this movie incredible.

The plot (such as it is) follows thusly: Reynolds plays One, the leader of a group of so-called “ghosts” – that is, people who have faked their own deaths so that they can go off the grid and become the force that gets rid of bad people when governments cannot. He’s also a genius billionaire, because sure, why not?

The team of highly attractive and uniquely skilled ghosts that One has assembled includes former CIA operative Two (Melanie Laurent, “Operation Finale”), retired hitman Three (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, “Mary”), thief/parkour guy Four (Ben Hardy, “Bohemian Rhapsody”), soft-spoken doctor Five (Adria Arjona, TV’s “Good Omens”) and wiseacre driver Six (Dave Franco, “Zeroville”). No one has names because One doesn’t want anyone to get too attached; it’s the mission above all else.

This mission – their first – involves taking down the murderous dictator of the lazily-fictionalized country of Turgmenistan, a stereotypical baddie named Rovach Alimov (Lior Raz, “Operation Finale”). But in the early part of the mission, things go sideways and one of their number winds up dying in the course of making their escape.

(It’s Six – Dave Franco dies. I’d say no spoilers, but it happens at the end of the 15ish-minute car chase scene that opens the movie, so whatever.)

Anyway, One needs another guy, so he recruits Seven (Corey Hawkins, “Georgetown”) to join the team and help execute the rest of the plan – namely, to oust Rovach and install his more democratically-inclined brother Murat (Payman Maadi, “Suddenly a Tree”) as the country’s leader instead.

All this unfolds around weirdly-timed and confusing flashbacks that are intended to give us a sense of who these people were before they became ghosts, but instead serve only to confuse the timeline and make us wonder what the hell we’re even doing here.

You know what? That’s plenty. You get the gist.

Look, “6 Underground” is a bad movie. The plot is nonsense and the performances are hammy. And yet … there’s something about it. Michael Bay is our preeminent purveyor of cinematic junk food; you know you don’t really want it and that you will almost certainly regret consuming it, but in the moment, it looks so enticing that you can’t help yourself.

The collaboration with Netflix makes a ton of sense, really – far more sense than the movie itself makes. “6 Underground” practically begs to be watched from the couch, an opportunity to turn your brain off for two hours and watch stuff explode. There are crazy car chases and massive gun battles and multiple extended parkour sequences; this thing is lousy with punching and quipping and questionable physics. It is big and dumb in a surprisingly tempting way … and no one does big and dumb like Michael Bay. Respect.

The performances are ridiculous, highlighted by a Ryan Reynolds turn that is indistinguishable from 90% of what the guy does. I’ve conceded that he’s not a complete load as an actor despite his general air of punchability, but this is not his finest hour. It’s all smug winking, like he’s trying to tell us that he knows it’s dumb but also that it’s kind of awesome too.

The rest of the crew doesn’t fare much better. Laurent deserves better than this. Garcia-Rulfo is trying hard, lumbering along. Arjona seems to be here solely because no one wanted to call the movie “5 Underground.” Hardy does some parkour and is semi-charmingly British. Hawkins gives it his all, but proves unable to push past the underlying stupidity of the story. Frankly, Franco probably gets off the easiest, seeing as he dies a gruesome death at about the 20-minute mark.

He’s not alone, of course – there are a truly tremendous number of brutal deaths in this movie. I’d hesitate to hazard a guess at the total casualties, but it’s a LOT. Explosions, of course, but also gunfire and car crashes, not to mention war crimes. It’s all a bit much.

But when you think about it, “a bit much” is essentially Michael Bay’s ethos. It is his guiding creative tenet – more, more, always more. And Netflix knew that when they handed him the check; one assumes that they are likely satisfied with the end result.

“6 Underground” is an interesting twist on the Netflix formula, perhaps the most stereotypically big-budget of the big-budget undertakings the company has financed thus far. It’s bad, but I’m not at all sure that even matters. The grand experiment continues … and it sure looks like Netflix is getting the results they seek.

[2 out of 5]

Last modified on Tuesday, 17 December 2019 08:35

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