Saturday, December 14, 2019


Michael Bay’s 6 Underground gives him the opportunity for breathless Bayhem at its most gleefully cool and cruel. It has bullets, blood splatters, and bodies splattered and splayed — a crooked general killed in slow-mo with a gunshot through a cigar he’s smoking; every car crash sending bodies flipping out of windshields and side doors. It has large-scale stunts and impressive high-speed driving, every angle chosen for velocity and carnage stunningly shot and staged. In the rare down times we see, lovingly photographed, Bay’s other recurring images: product placement, ladies’ long legs, glowing screens, and dazzling architecture flying by in whip-fast establishing shots that linger and leer just long enough to get the visual pleasure. It tells you everything you need to know about the film’s aesthetic that, after one of the film’s team of protagonists is speared by a forklift, the group’s funeral dinner is Captain Morgan and pizza. Or that there’s a car chase through an art museum scored to a dubstep “O Fortuna.” Not since Bad Boys II has this vulgar auteur been extended a free hand for a blank check hard-R pulp action vision so untrammeled. He spent the last twelve years in franchise land, helming five Transformers movies (some good, others not) that bent the kids' toyline mythos to his style, with brief detours for a bombastic satirical true-crime picture (Pain & Gain) and a gory militaristic siege movie (13 Hours). Here he’s back in the world of macho braggarts, fast cars, machine guns, and mini-skirts that made his name back in the mid-90s days of The Rock and the first Bad Boys. This movie has a simple story told convolutedly. We have a ragtag quasi-vigilante black ops team of experts who’ve faked their own deaths to move around the world secretly. (When asked if The President signed off on the plan, one quips, “No, he can’t even spell it.”) There’s a tech guy (Ryan Reynolds, now in a permanent state of semi-Deadpool energy), a spy (Melanie Laurent), a doctor (Adria Arjona), a hit man (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a parkour guy (Ben Hardy), a sniper (Corey Hawkins), and a driver (Dave Franco). There’s an evil dictator (duh) in a stereotypically vague faux-Third World country, and the protagonists are gonna take him down. Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese’s screenplay has a whole lot of repetitive rigamarole between just three action sequences of incredible duration and complication, with lots of cross-cut suspense and violence and all manner of stunt work at the highest level of skill. Explosions! Profanity! Geysers of blood and sparks and water and smoke! Dizzying heights and incredible combat! It’s cranked up and spat out—fast movement, vibrant colors, collateral damage—at the audience in balletic brutality and eye-popping intensity. So loud and splashy it’s a shame most will stream it on Netflix, it proves Bay remains one of the only maximalist stylists operating at this budget level who can wield the effects for maximum impact while still allowed to foreground his own preoccupations, for better or worse, in every frame.

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