Are you suffering from prestige fatigue? Have you seen too many recent movies that asked of viewers to think, to feel, to engage with characters as if they were actual human beings? The volume business dealers at Netflix have a possible solution for that. Alongside “The Irishman,” “Marriage Story” and its more upmarket year-end titles, let the service now also offer you “6 Underground,” a new film directed by Michael Bay.
The notion of Bay being given more or less a blank check to create one of his kinetic, overwhelming, things-go-boom action movies is both thrilling and disconcerting. Bay is a dazzling technician, with a commendably strong commitment to capturing as much in-camera live action as possible, but he has long stubbornly refused to progress as a storyteller or anything other than a purveyor of over-the-top action imagery. The oddball detour of his 2013 satire “Pain & Gain” looks more and more an outlier in his filmography, even as he seems to have concluded his run with the outsized “Transformers” franchise.
After a brief opening sequence helps establish the story — Ryan Reynolds as an enigmatic tech billionaire who has assembled a small private mercenary force to go after assorted international bad guys — the film plunges into an extended chase around Florence, Italy. While there is some wild stuff to be sure, cars careening around historic monuments, parkour on the top of the Duomo dome and lots of run-over newspaper racks, vegetable stands and assorted bystanders, Bay’s frenetic style of cutting and shooting often renders the images incomprehensible as objects in space. When everything is unreal, what is practical or what is digital becomes beside the point.
The movie is produced by David Ellison’s Skydance Media, which has also been involved in the most recent “Mission: Impossible” pictures, and it is hard not to feel like “6 Underground” is just some knockoff version of the “M:I” movies, without any of the gritty resolve or unexpected grace that filmmaker Christopher McQuarrie has brought to that series’ most recent entries. Bay’s brand of shock-and-awe filmmaking, which once seemed to be the cutting edge of action cinema, now feels a little out of step, outdated even, like someone who found their personal look long ago and steadfastly sticks to it even as the styles of the time evolve.
The script was written by the “Deadpool” team of Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese, meaning it is tailor-made for Reynolds’ signature charming/smarmy routine. The actor’s ironic stance is a good fit for the universe of Michael Bay, where everyone outside the main characters has always been little more than comic foils to be shot, maimed, injured or cracked-wise about.
The rest of the team, an international ensemble that includes Mélanie Laurent, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Ben Hardy, Adria Arjona, Dave Franco and Corey Hawkins, never progress far beyond the data points of their respective character introductions as “the hitman,” “the driver,” “the doctor,” etc. Both Laurent and Hawkins in particular make the most of what they are given and often seem to be bumping up against the boundaries of what they are able to do. Actor Payman Maadi, known from the Oscar-winning Iranian film “A Separation,” also appears as the democracy-supporting brother of the brutal dictator of a fictional Middle Eastern country that Reynolds’ team intends to depose via a coup d’état. (As one does.)
Relatively early in the film, Reynolds’ character makes mention of multiple targets and possible missions, meaning there could easily be a series of “6 Underground” sequels waiting in the wings. Much like “6 Underground” itself, any other movies would not be entirely unwelcome but not exactly essential either. If Netflix is known for tracking the data of how far into a movie viewers get before turning it off, “6 Underground” is ideal content for their algorithms. After a strong start the movie steadily declines, one set piece after another, and there are many moments where the mind wanders and then asks: “Is this still going on?”
Running time: 2 hours and 7 minutes
Playing: Regency Village, Westwood; iPic Theaters at One Colorado, Pasadena; available Dec. 13 on Netflix