Michael Bay has never made a subtle movie in his life. His career is built on recklessly blowing shit up. And sure, his projects are anything but nuanced. They just have to deliver on all the explosions and chase scenes that Bay has stylishly immortalized in his own film canon.
Fascinatingly, though, Bay’s casting choices have sometimes proven discerning. The dire Bayhem just couldn’t handle them. Ben Affleck, Kate Beckinsale, and Josh Hartnett would have been an effective trio in Pearl Harbor, but they are hampered by the tedious melodrama of the film’s script. Meanwhile, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi taps into John Krasinski and James Badge Dale’s relatable, naturalistic onscreen personas. Nevertheless, the movie drudges along and isn’t particularly memorable outside scenes involving rampant gunfire.
What then can we make of the involvement, as Deadline has announced, of Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds) and Payman Maadi (A Separation) in Bay’s latest, 6 Underground? That’s tough to discern when their roles in the movie are still kept under wraps. Indeed, much about the project as a whole is still one giant secret.
We first heard about 6 Underground sparingly when Bay was prepping to take over Steven Spielberg’s erstwhile passion project Robopocalypse. Penned by Deadpool 2’s Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese, 6 Underground has since been rumored to be about six billionaires who become crime busters after faking their own deaths.
Laurent and Maadi join an already packed ensemble led by Ryan Reynolds, whose continued Deadpool credibility maintains his rejuvenated status as a bona fide action star. A diverse range of actors – namely Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton), Adria Arjona (Pacific Rim Uprising), Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (Sicario: Day of The Soldado), Ben Hardy (X-Men: Apocalypse), Lior Raz (Mary Magdalene), and Dave Franco (Now You See Me) – will also feature in 6 Underground.
That’s a crowded movie. Very much in Bay’s wheelhouse of collaborative vehicles, but it makes actors of Laurent and Maadi’s caliber seem a tad out of place. Admittedly, assessing casting news for anything Bay does is difficult in general, because he isn’t the best at exposition or character development. He often offers cliched, hollow reasons for audiences to care about the people in his films. They’re especially droll when set within the lengthy, repetitive tone of his films.
But there could be a saving grace this time around: Wernick and Reese, whose writing is paced well and sports a distinct comedic personality. Bay’s movies are frankly never actually funny. Pain & Gain was the closest the director ever got to amusing. Even then, that movie’s cynicism informs the kind of laughter it elicits from audiences. A generous reading of Pain & Gain would be to call it “Fargo on steroids.” Yet, its supposed self-awareness isn’t actually sustained because Bay loves self-indulgent violence so much.
In comparison, especially after the release of the Deadpool movies, Wernick and Reese have the ability to write the kind of decadently violent R-rated comedy that Bay would approve of. They can balance dark jokes with buoyancy. Somehow, Bay sucked the life out of a film franchise based on children’s toys. If Wernick and Reese can rejuvenate his filmmaking with their brand of boisterous bloodletting, that could make 6 Underground worth sticking around for.
Between both newest additions to 6 Underground, Maadi is a less surprising casting choice, if only because he and Bay previously worked together on 13 Hours. Maadi’s striking performances in various anguished dramas like A Separation, Tales, and Camp X-Ray speak for his raw, precise, and multifaceted talents. His aptitude sadly never blossoms in the supporting role he played in 13 Hours. Yet the fun factor that I hope will be in 6 Underground would do him good in a Bay film. It would also mark a pleasant change in Maadi’s generally heavy filmography.
In Laurent’s case, maybe the least that 6 Underground could do is stage a rebirth of the icy badassery we witnessed from her in Inglourious Basterds. Laurent’s character, Shosanna, is a damn good action hero. She is, of course, given time and space to develop her course for vengeance against the Nazis in Quentin Tarantino’s alternate history. Nevertheless, Laurent showed a great gift for being steely and calculative. It’s not a trait that’s well utilized in her other big-budget attempts, such as Louis Leterrier’s Now You See Me. However, when given the right flashy realm to let loose – for instance, by symbolically burning Hitler and his top associates alive in a movie theater – Laurent goes from being quietly tough to deliciously formidable.
I’ve never met a Michael Bay movie I didn’t totally side-eye. But thanks to the potential of its screenwriting duo, perhaps Bay’s good eye for casting will finally pay off in 6 Underground.
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