‘6 Underground’ Feels Like Michael Bay’s Attempt to Make a ‘Fast and Furious’ Franchise for Netflix

Netflix clearly has no problem spending money, but the irony is that the alleged 150 million dollar price tag afforded to Michael Bay for his first venture into the world of streaming is still significantly less than the “Transformers” mega-budgets the director has grown accustomed to working with. “6 Underground,” seems like Bay’s answer to recent blockbuster achievements of other Hollywood set-piece giants, namely the two Christophers: Nolan and McQuarrie. He’s attempted to hybridize the gigantism of their epic studio films with the nature of the family oriented “Fast & Furious” franchise, filtering it all through his colorful macho tendencies. The result is a mess of a movie that Bay seems convinced amounts to some sort of satire.

“6 Underground’s” opening voiceover introduces audiences to a billionaire in a fighter jet (Ryan Reynolds), doing his best “Top Gun” impression. He informs the audience that he faked his own death in a plane crash and assembles a team of covert specialists, who are also deceased so far as official records are concerned. Reynold’s character refers to them as ghosts, who can haunt the living to try to make the world a better place. He assigns each of his team members a number (he’s One, of course) and tells them to never reveal their real identities. Members include a former CIA operative (Mélanie Laurent, Two), a disheveled hitman (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Three), parkour expert (Ben Hardy, Four), medical specialist (Adria Arjona, Five) and quippy wheelman (Dave Franco, Six).

Bay does the bare minimum of any kind of establishment, from both a story and a staging perspective, hitting the ground running with a high-octane chase, immediately following the voice-over info dump, which introduces audiences to his characters in media res. Tight close-ups withhold information, as the narrative is chopped up into fragments as the audience plays catch up, and pedestrians flee the streets in panic. Blood spills in slow motion as squibs go off, character cards splatter in Nickelodeon slime fashion. Two is “the CIA Spook,” and Number Four is “The Skywalker,” etc. Following the chase, there are flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks, and after about 45 minutes the plot finally starts to make sense. “And now you’re all caught up!” the voiceover boasts.

We learn that One has decided to use his genius tech skills to rid the world of evil. His newest plan is to overthrow an evil dictator of a fictional country, replacing him with his softer younger brother. He recruits a new team member, a military marksman (Corey Hawkins, who does not want to be called Seven). The planning and plotting phase of the group’s heist mission is not something the audience is privy to, but it involves a pool on top of a penthouse, a luxury yacht, magnets, and a lot of shootouts on stairwells inside skyscrapers. Bullet spark and stunt work overshadows any kind of narrative logic. The enormous set pieces do have inventive moments; were Bay not so dead set on including all of his nonstop fetishes, pairing the almost sporting event like violence will juvenile humor, blatant product placement, and an infinity of pop culture references, he could have constructed a super inventive action climax, in two parts.

But the extended finale is a lot more clutter than clatter. Certain stunt beats confirm his abilities to do more with less as an action director, only he chooses not to except when it suits his interests. He has the frenetic eye of a filmmaker like Tony Scott without having displayed any of the discipline. In a Zack Snyder-esque moment, a grenade knocks a gooney’s teeth out before exploding in a gory frenzy. Bay continues to prove himself an adept choreographer of dynamic shoot ‘em ups that lack any kind of logic.

Cinematic coherence notwithstanding, Reynold’s character is so difficult to root for, being nothing more than a spoiled chauvinist. As a team leader, he’s fine with his driver flooring it through the galleries of priceless museum artifacts but has a freak out moment when they smash into a statue of Apollo and Daphne, barking orders and making obnoxious jokes, even doing a double take at one point upon realizing he’s appropriated lyrics from Eminem, which reads as Bay’s surface level commentary on the very issues exemplified by the movie. He’s Deadpool by way of Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark.

As proven by his bizarre ransom film “Pain & Gain,” Michael Bay seems to think that acknowledging something with a sly wink of self-awareness makes it a form of satire, though the problem lies with how his obsessions are fetishized. “6 Underground” features more low-angle shots of women’s tightly cut dresses than it does memorable blockbuster moments. The character of One preaches his love for the classic sitcom “Leave it to Beaver,” in order to drive the theme of family home, but never bothers to address how his team’s actions might affect the world on a global scale. Magnets are key to his plan being executed, but when the big budget moment arrives, like the majority of the film, it plays like a seventh-grade science project version of the movies and genres Bay is riffing on. 

‘“6 Underground,’ opens in select theaters and begins streaming Dec. 13 on Netflix