The casting of a lead actor or actress can say so much about a movie. If I see the name Daniel Day Lewis, Joaquin Phoenix or Cate Blanchett on a movie poster, I can be fairly certain the movie is going to feature a strong performance from serious talent.
These capable actors can play a wide variety of characters and personalities. They are as versatile as they are charismatic. On the other end of the talent spectrum is Ryan Reynolds, an actor who has charisma but no versatility. It’s the difference between watching a multi-faceted artist digging deep to bring a character to life and a guy doing his shtick. The only thing that ever changes is the title of the movie.
To be fair, that last statement applies to a lot of movie stars.
Ryan Reynolds isn’t the only actor who has used a limited number of tools to construct a catapult to stardom. Dwayne Johnson, Vin Diesel, Kevin Hart and any number of popular performers have used similar shoddy trebuchets to launch their huge careers as leading men. Michael Bay’s action movie, “6 Underground,” feels like the Ryan Reynolds of movies: slick, ridiculous, boring.
Reynolds plays “One,” the wealthy leader of a secretive group of super-assassins who don’t have names and work together to rid the world of evil assholes. His team is a hodgepodge of action-hero tropes, none of whom have a personality that isn’t thinly painted on. They have a mission: Take down the cruel Turkmenistani dictator and replace him with his more democratic-leaning brother. The basic concept is interesting enough: a group of mercenaries want to partake in some altruistic nation-building. Unfortunately, it’s pretty much where everything interesting about “6 Underground” dies.
The opening action sequence basically tells us everything we need to know about Michael Bay and the story he’s about to tell. There’s a bright green sports car, filled with trained killers, speeding through Florence and inadvertently destroying priceless works of art. Michael Bay is a director people love. He’s part of the soulless studio machine that produces artifice rather than art—a director who feels more comfortable filming product placement and near-naked bodies of very attractive people than constructing scenes of believable human interactions.
The characters of “6 Underground” are no different than the lighting, wardrobe or any other element of set dressing. They’re a necessary piece of the motion-picture puzzle, but Bay either lacks a fundamental understanding of character or just doesn’t care. He’s like the Ryan Reynolds of directors: someone who constantly, painfully and begrudgingly undercuts seriousness with comedy, which reduces the dramatic stakes of any scene to less than zero.
The only thing worth complimenting in a movie like “6 Underground” are some beautiful, well-constructed action sequences. They’re the only things Michael Bay consistently manages to deliver with any degree of quality. Even those are constantly interrupted by insipid dialogue and annoying references that make a would-be cool moment utterly cringe-worthy. Having a member of the team who does nothing but recite famous lines from movies does not count as character development.
I’m not sure who the intended audience for a movie like “6 Underground” is. Is the super-violent, sexualized R-rated action movie for people with the emotional maturity of a 12-year-old? Is it the perfect film for the lover of God-awful cinema, or prepubescent teens who know how to watch adult content using their parents’ Netflix login?
Berating a film like “6 Underground” is by no means the sport of kings. The mindless action movie is a genre I am capable of enjoying. Even to call “6 Underground” “mindless” feels like a disservice to the very concept of mindlessness. This movie is belligerently, intelligently and proudly idiotic—a middle finger to the cerebellum.