In the opening assault of “6 Underground,” Michael Bay’s latest action bonanza, there is one of the best screen moments of the year. Just as a lime green Alfa Romeo Giulia whips around a piazza, Ryan Reynolds’ ‘One’ opens the window to scream at pedestrians to get out of the way. Dave Franco’s driver ‘Six’ is warned suddenly of a woman carrying a baby. Bay initiates a slow-motion for the evasion. The rear of the car barely glides past the mother, who while juggling her baby takes a flying pigeon to the face. A pigeon. In the face. In slow motion. Cue applause. Bayhem Returns, and this time the spine of the “Deadpool” series (Ryan Reynolds, Rhett Rheese and Paul Wernick) is along to get a mouthful of that seemingly endless Netflix honey.
“6 Underground” is a modern blend of “The A-Team” or the latter seasons of British TV’s “Spooks” minus the politics – and follows freelance misfits that fake their deaths in order to do some disruptive black ops anonymously and without oversight. Don’t get it twisted, Michael Bay is a phenomenal action director. Unfortunately, in the enormous pixelated grinder of the “Transformers” films, his reputation for constructing genuinely jaw-dropping action movie chaos has been diminished.
Back in the saddle, with distinctly more adult content and far less computer-generated effects, he’s just as capable of affecting inertia while you’re sitting still. Car chases are blisteringly fast, and the vehicular carnage has a furious zeal. One wrong move for a pursuit vehicle and you’re being catapulted, flipped, split and send your soon to be dead passengers skyward. Bay and co. serve up three monster action sequences, delivering practical effects, real stunts, targeted disorientation and a metric f–k ton of explosions. There’s even a finale where mad scientist Bay deploys super magnets to ragdoll, disarm and pin cushion an army of henchman. Composer Lorne Balfe gets to riff on Hans Zimmer’s “Inception” drone, and the bass can be felt deep in the parts of your testicles even your doctor can’t get to when you turn and cough.
If it occasionally Bay feels slightly behind the times, with action fads like parkour and first-person GoPro disorientation; it’s probably because he is. One imagines that serving as the captain of the perennially PG Transformers franchise, sidelined many techniques and tools. “6 Underground” is Bay throwing his hat in the ring and the damned kitchen sink at a chance to take his brand of epic movie-making into the Netflix stream.
The script by Rheese and Wernick works to great effect amid the chaos. The bickering and banter and some times poorly executed quotes from movies or Top 40 songs. When you start to scratch the motivational and geopolitical logic – it crumbles like a wafer. Do I even remember the bad guy’s (played by Lior Raz) name? No, I don’t. Does that matter? No. The chemistry of the cast and the alchemy of the action more than makeup for it.
Bay’s fetishistic lens appraises this impossibly attractive group, none more than the face-melting Melanie Laurent. For most, Laurent is Shosanna in “Inglourious Basterds,” and here she’s Two, a ‘CIA Spook’, and she disarms foes as much with her stutter inducing good looks as she does with “John Wick” popularised gun-fu. Two of the best shots of the movie feature Laurent. The first, she’s standing in front of a car on a road that looks like a tarmac vein in endless waves of rolling dunes. In a white power suit, blue reflective sunglasses and scarf billowing in the breeze – she’s immediate iconic badass material. The other features Laurent in white lingerie adorned atop a large five-star hotel bed that resembles a cloud of three thousand thread count sheets. Objectification in a Bay movie is a given, but it’s a relief it’s at least age-appropriate this time.
Reynolds’ One tempers the actors signature scatter gun zingers to lead this crew. It’s the bridge between Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark but with a certain self-awareness. It’s all about the assist. He’s happy to take the literal and figurative passenger seat with Dave Franco’s Six – the adorable Baby Driver of “6 Underground”. It’s all about the inspirational speeches to recruit “Straight Outta Compton” star Corey Hawkins – a military sniper at a crossroads as the lone survivor of a suicide bombing attack. It’s the sneaking around to see if Manuel Garica-Rulfo’s former Sicario ‘Three’ is breaking their ‘ghost’ rules. Garcia-Rulfo is an excellent source of comedy, dishing violence, vanity and machismo, keeping our attention and snaring the affections of Laurent’s Two. The crew is rounded out by ‘Four’ (the serviceable and under-utilised Adria Rona) as their medic and Five (the solid Ben Hardy) as the daredevil, parkour, cockney acrobat.
Netflix original films – aside from the exceptional few like “Roma,” “The Irishman,” “Marriage Story” – often feel like they could have used the scrutiny of a Hollywood studio’s notes process. Not for Bay, this is some profoundly unhinged carnage. Heads explode, ordinates graze faces before the liquify their targets and pop their vehicles like fruit thrown from a high-rise. Every damned cent is splayed on the screen. It’s only a shame that something with such BBE (Big Bay Energy) and real popcorn action bonafides is stuck to the confines of your home cinema. Leave this crew alone to make one of these every year for the next decade. “Fast and Furious” be warned, the Bay is back in town.