Netflix UK film review: 6 Underground
Ivan Radford | On 13, Dec 2019
Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Mélanie Laurent, Corey Hawkins, Adria Arjona, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Ben Hardy Lior Raz, Payman Maadi, Dave Franco
Watch 6 Underground online in the UK: Netflix UK
“I’ve got a bad idea,” says sharp-shooting Number 7 (Corey Hawkins) mid-way through a ridiculous action set piece. “Don’t have bad ideas. Have good ideas,” retorts Number 1 (Ryan Reynolds). That’s the conversation you’ll be having with yourself as you watch 6 Underground, Michael Bay’s new movie for Netflix – before watching, jaw-dropped, as the film goes ahead with whatever idea it had in mind anyway.
The movie opens in Florence, where a gang of elusive, secretive do-gooders are busy trying do Something Important for Reasons. This mostly involves them tearing through the streets of Italy’s most beautiful city, running down the dome of Florence’s cathedral and half-destroying the Uffizi Gallery. If you want to see someone crash into priceless statues and paintings in a sports car, 6 Underground is the film for you.
The group have been assembled by Number 1, a billionaire orphan who, tired of not being able to make a difference by legitimate means, faked his death and put together a team of similar ghosts to put things right by other means. Means involving guns.
What drove to him to pick the people he did? We don’t really know, we’re just told he did. How did he find them? We don’t really know, we’re just shown him turning up behind them in a mildly creepy manner. Why do they follow him when he keeps failing to prove himself a good leader? We don’t really know, we’re just asked to believe them as they blindly agree to his every order.
The script, by Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese, tries to give the two-dimensional mercenaries some substance, repeatedly flashing back to give us a glimpse of their back-stories in the middle of random action sequences. But the awkward attempts at characterisation mainly leave it to the cast to do the job.
Melanie Laurent has the measure of what she’s required to do as Number 2, a former spy and Ben Hardy does earnest bad-boy-come-good as the freerunning Number 4, but Adria Arjona’s doctor (Number 5) and Dave Franco’s driver (Number 6) are disappointingly one-note. Even the brutal assassin Number 3 (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) fails to find intimidating gravitas, as the screenplay can’t decide whether he’s ruthless or dumb, and whether he’s obsessed with food or films. The always-excellent Corey Hawkins as Number 7, the operator who joins the team partway through, adds some much-needed heart and tension, but even he can’t tee up enough of an arc for Ryan Reynolds’ unnamed character to be more than just a wise-cracking cypher.
Thankfully, Michael Bay knows that people aren’t coming to this film looking for character-driven action, and his ensemble blockbuster is at its best when simply letting the team work together. The introductory chase lasts about 20 minutes and crams in a surprising amount of (unsubtle) exposition amid the carnage. A raid on a penthouse with a swimming pool is a genuinely dazzling spectacle. And a climax on a boat features possibly the best on-screen use of magnets since Breaking Bad.
With Netflix offering creative freedom, though, all of that visual mastery is undermined by over-indulgent, hyperactive editing that renders parts borderline incomprehensible. The male gaze is unnecessarily out in force for several bedroom scenes, while violence is gratuitously gory throughout, even for the most insignificant background characters. At two-hours-plus, all of that stacks up to something overbearingly loud and illogical – the fact that Lion Raz’s villainous dictator (whose brother, A Separation’s Payman Maadi, is teed up as a replacement for him) has no clear motivation doesn’t help much. The inconsistent use of slow-mo only reinforces the uneven feeling.
Ryan Reynolds keeps telling us why he’s doing what he’s doing in a voiceover that’s designed to keep us on the team’s side, but even his fast-talking charisma can’t make 6 Underground a Baytastic success. The result is a visually stunning, spectacularly action-packed affair that sees Bay at his most Michael Bay – for better and for worse. What’s frustrating is that, from The Rock to Armageddon, Bay can employ his action skills for more focused, tight, gripping stories. He has lots of good ideas, he just keeps having bad ones too.
6 Underground is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.