6 Underground continues the eternal battle, wherein Michael Bay pits sound and fury against mind and spirit. There can be no doubt who will win in the end: After 128 minutes of relentless pummeling, my brain resembled that pink slime they use to make McNuggets. Dizzying but never dazzling, frantic but never exciting, 6 Underground squanders the considerable charm of Ryan Reynolds, while also pushing the audience’s tolerance for cinematic horseshit to its outer limits.
The movie kicks off like a coke-fueled fever dream, with a haze of stilted narration and jumbled timelines. It’s all so confusing that my hopes actually raised for a moment: A mysterious billionaire (Ryan Reynolds) recounts his own death, and proposes a scenario where badass ghosts come back to haunt villains and to put right what once went wrong. It made me think Quantum Leap meets The Crow meets Mission Impossible. Oh, hell yeah! Gimme, gimme, gimme. Alas…nope. This just turns out to be another boring, straight-forward action movie: A little more novocaine for your brain.
Yup, Ol’ Van Wilder was speaking in metaphors. He’s a suave vigilante, code-named One. One assembles an elite squad to make the world a better place. They operate beyond the reach of bureaucratic red tape and political agendas. Everybody gets a corresponding number, and a specific role on the team. It’s like a spy version of Reservoir Dogs. Except it sucks.
Bay opens the story with a jittery, incoherent chase through the streets of Florence. Cars spin and somersault through the air. Heads get blown off. Nuns are run over. Our heroes stop to ogle the penis on Michelangelo’s David. This whole thing reminded me of a nightmare I once had after eating too much Thai food. Something in all of this was probably supposed to be entertaining, but I couldn’t shake an old Roger Ebert quote: “To the degree that I do understand, I don’t care.”
From this pile of nothing, we proceed to the “plot.” One and his cohorts seek to topple a cruel dictator (Lior Raz), and liberate his desperate people. If you’re still onboard this rickety rollercoaster, that means lots of Ocean’s Eleven hijinks, mixed with a little James Bond and Jason Bourne. All the action feels like it’s been lit with a million flood lights and edited by a chef at Benihana.
Bay fills the movie with Dutch angles, while the script supplies us with one long Dutch oven. Most of the dialogue fires out like prepackaged one-liners, while the few remaining emotional beats clunk and clang with the exhaustion of a spent motor. Every ounce of icy cleverness only serves as a reminder that we’re watching a calculated product, and nothing more.
Few superstars generally feel like they’re having more fun than Ryan Reynolds, and most of his movies pass that breeziness on to the audience. Here, his movie star charm gets lost in Bay’s great cacophony. He gets a few moments of savvy sarcasm and superspy studliness, but these only underline the need for better material. Likewise, co-stars like Mélanie Laurent and Ben Hardy will immediately make you think of them in earlier, better movies.
Worst of all, 6 Underground commits the ultimate act of hubris by setting itself up for a sequel. As the name implies a dead body in the ground, could we call a future installment 7 Underground? Or 8 Underground? No franchise would ever have better use for a shovel. Too bad it’s the audience getting buried.
128 min. R.
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