I watched 6 Underground, raged with disgust and regret the whole time, and then almost immediately got sick with an ass-kicking cold that is still wrecking me more than a week later. And there’s no better time to write about a movie I hated than when I’m physically miserable, is there? Let’s do this shit.
6 Underground is repellent trash, a 140-minute exercise in what happens when Netflix gives Michael Bay an astonishing amount of money to remind us that this man never grew out of masturbating to hotties in American flag bikinis. Military idolatry and craven female objectification and a belief that the rich will save us? 6 Underground has it all! The film’s central argument, that the American government makes mistakes only sometimes and that it’s only billionaires—who made their money by helping develop tech to spy on people—who can save us, is flat-out disgusting. The only heroes in this world are American (and British) operatives, American billionaires, and American weapons, and isn’t it so nice that they all come together to save a country full of oppressed brown people who can’t rise up on their own? Isn’t that grand? This movie legitimately argues that American-led coups are a good thing, and just when I thought John Krasinski saying that we should be thanking the C.I.A. every day was the dumbest thing to happen in Hollywood lately, here comes Michael Bay to remind us that he made the Benghazi movie, Krasinski just starred in it. It’s all awful.
SPOILERS FOR 6 UNDERGROUND FOLLOW, JUST FYI
Ryan Reynolds stars in this movie, and he does that thing where he plays the exact same character he always plays, which is to be repetitively snarky and endlessly irritating. (Congratulations to Reynolds; he’s now starred in two of the dumbest movies I’ve ever seen about the Middle East, this film and the tortuous Buried.) Reynolds stars as a tech billionaire with a shadowy background—orphan, but with special ops-level military training—who decides to, after witnessing a chemical attack in dictator-controlled Turgistan, fake his own death and form a secret group of crime-fighting vigilantes. The idea here is that his group will be able to do things official governments can’t do, which is fucking hilarious because the United States loves doing coups, read a goddamn book.
So Reynolds becomes One, and convinces five other people to fake their own deaths too and join his group: regretful C.I.A. officer Two (Mélanie Laurent), assassin Three (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), parkour expert Four (Ben Hardy), doctor Five (Adria Arjona), and professional driver Six (Dave Franco). The film opens during a mission that’s gone awry, with Six driving the team through Florence and destroying a museum, pissing off nuns, and basically acting like a jackass before getting his head sliced off by construction equipment. After Six’s death, One recruits Seven (Corey Hawkins), a sniper who is haunted by the fact that the U.S. Army didn’t let him shoot at an Afghan bomber who then suicide bombed all his friends. (This is perhaps the only time I’ve seen a movie say that the U.S. government didn’t use enough force during the War on Terror, but okay.)
When One visits Seven, he not only lets him know that he’s the kind of tech billionaire who is constantly spying on people, but he also hilariously says that this team would be taking down real bad guys with impunity, again, as if the U.S. government wasn’t already allowed to do that. Excuse me, have you seen The Report? I guess not! Anyway, this is what One uses to seduce Seven to join his secret death squad:
“I listened to your call, never mind how. I would have let you pull that trigger. We can make [the world] a little less shitty, you know, and I’m the guy who can help you do that. You could take out some truly evil people. Not people that the government tell you are evil based on policy or politics or bureaucracy or trade relations or any of that shit. I’m taking really world-class evil motherfuckers. I will never tell you to not pull that trigger.”
This of course works, because obviously the dude who willingly helped invade Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001, would want to be told that he can kill whomever he wants. And One lays out his mission, which is where the movie’s rampant Orientalism comes into play: The target is Turgistan, a fictional country that the movie basically presents as a mixture of Syria, Iraq, and Dubai. The country is led by the dictator Rovach Alimov (Lior Raz), who is apparently hated by the entire world but also somehow able to travel to Paris to check out operas with only like two bodyguards. In terms of hurting his people, Rovach is a combination of Bashar al-Assad and Saddam Hussein (ahem, both U.S. allies at one point), but the country itself is sort of like Dubai, with incredibly developed metropolitan areas with gigantic skyscrapers. One, who visited the country once and experienced a chemical attack Rovach ordered, has decided that the guy needs to be replaced with his “democracy-loving brother” Murat (Peyman Maadi of A Separation, who I hope is cashing a gigantic check from this shit). But Murat is locked away by Rovach in Hong Kong, and so the team needs to break Murat out while also instigating a rebellion in Turgistan. “The world stays on the sideline,” One says self-seriously, so it’s up to the six of them to engineer the coup. Oh, and yes, this movie actually has a scene where One explains, “this is how to stage a coup.”
Now, let me say this: Coups everywhere in the world, including the Middle East, often led by the U.S., are pretty fucked up! A U.S.- and U.K.-led coup in Iran in the 1950s led to the ouster of prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, who was supported by the Iranian people and wanted to nationalize the country’s oil supply. That obviously didn’t fly with American and British interests, so they led a coup to keep the Iranian Shah in place, which eventually lead to the people rebelling and the installment of the Islamic government. That didn’t go so well for the U.S., did it? Or what about the ouster of Saddam Hussein, onetime U.S. ally? The collapse of Iraq helped lead to the creation of the Islamic State, and yeah, Iraq is still tearing itself apart. And how about the attempted uprising by the Syrian people? The world hasn’t “stayed on the sidelines,” as 6 Underground says of the situation in Turgistan. There are forces actively working with Syria to keep its people under the rule of al-Assad. There is no situation in the world in which other international parties aren’t also involved, and it’s never as cut and dry as, “We’ll put in this good guy and everything will be fine and the brown people will love us and appreciate us forever.”
But hey, what did I expect from a movie that loads its portrayal of Turgistan with as much Orientalism as possible? Because actually, Turgistan was a region of the Sasanian Empire that would now be located in Pakistan. But the film makes Turgistan a smorgasbord of various Middle Eastern stereotypes with no connection to that actual history. The only people we see are either sad, poor, dirty people in refugee camps, or people in Rovach’s employ—so, disenfranchised and in need of American saviors, or evil and worthy of murder. They speak Turkmen, which is a real language, but it’s the official language of Turkmenistan; why would that be used here, in a country modeled after Arab ones like Syria and Iraq and Dubai? And the best part of this all is that Rovach is played by an Israeli actor and Murat is played by an Iranian actor and the two of them have wildly different accents and would never, in any world, be believable as brothers!
Joke’s on me, though, because 6 Underground doesn’t care at all about any of these details. This is a movie so horrendously overloaded with jump cuts that I actually got a headache while suffering through its spastic pacing; a movie enthralled with its own highly immature script, one that burns through lines like “She squirted” and jokes about dick size in the first scene; a movie that loves gross gags like a man going to squeeze a nasty zit in the mirror before his brains are blown out and splattered everywhere; a movie that demands that all its female characters show off T&A because they’re so cool and edgy. “Remember, they don’t like Americans,” One warns his team before they go into a country to overthrow its government and install a new leader who only needs to give one speech to inspire all the rube citizens to get behind him and murder his brother in the street with machetes like the savages they are. Shit, dude, who would like y’all after that?
6 Underground began streaming on Netflix on Dec. 13.
Image sources (in order of posting): Netflix Media Center, Netflix Media Center