The most interesting thing about 6 Underground The only thing that is interesting about 6 Underground whatsoever is how it was financed and distributed. The 14th film directed by Michael Bay  comes after a bizarre dozen years in his career, during which time he focused on only two kinds of production: five Transformers pictures, each one of which he obviously hated more than the last, and the deliberately small and pared-down (by Bay standards) Pain & Gain and 13 Hours. The first set has all the budget and extreme scale of a "traditional" Bay film, but none of the personality; the latter two have the meaty gonzo masculinity of Bay's most exemplary work, but are little and plainly weren't expected to make Bay-style money at the box office.

6 Underground is the synthesis of these two strands of his career, and feels like the most genuinely Michael Bay-ish film since 2003's Bad Boys II, I'd say (though if I'm counting more than half of his filmography as not genuine, that perhaps means that I need to change my sense of what "a Michael Bay film" is. Either way, there's a lot of Bad Boys II energy here that hasn't been so present in anything he's made since then). I want to make it clear that I do not think this is a good thing - 6 Underground is a dreadful motion picture - but it is a thing.

And back to the financing and distribution. This most Bay-ish of Bay films, the return to form by a director who made one bombastic blockbuster after another through the late '90s and 2000s, this is a Netflix Original. At $150 million, it's the second-most expensive Netflix Original ever, in fact, after The Irishman. And absent anything else, spending $150 million on a Michael Bay action picture is a much smarter play than spending $175 million on a 3.5-hour Martin Scorsese gangster epic, but that's got nothing to do with what makes this weird and interesting. What's interesting is that we have now hit the point either where the theatrical marketplace has grown so constrained and reactionary that a Michael Bay action picture is seen as too much of a risk to gamble some money on, or where Netflix has become such a normal, reliable part of the cinema ecosystem that a director-producer who embodies the "see it on the biggest screen possible" ethos of spectacle-over-everything popcorn filmmaking more than anybody else has decided that it's a perfectly fine way for audiences to encounter his latest work. In either case, this feels like something massive has shifted even, and I don't care for it either way.

That is, mind you, a conversation completely independent of whether 6 Underground deserves to be seen on a big screen, or whether it deserves to be seen at all. $150 million budget or no, there's something that feels vaguely chintzy about it, a weightless digital quality to its shininess. And we get a good long chance to see just how how weightless it can get right from the start, in the form of a miserably bad 20-minute long car chase through Florence, Italy. It's even more incoherently-edited than the nightmarish sequence that opens the James Bond film Quantum of Solace, and it's six times as long. There's so little rhyme or reason to how the shots have been assembled that it's only clear from context that at least three people are sitting in the same car, speaking (or more often, shouting) at each other as they tear-ass through the city, away from the presumably bad people from whom they have stolen some kind of electronic database. Even with the film obligingly providing on-screen text describing each of the protagonists and their job - there are, appropriately, six of them - it's only once the setpiece has ended and we actually get to see these people involved in a conversation scene that I could confidently figure out who the hell the characters were.

The leader is One (Ryan Reynolds) is a genius tech billionaire who faked his own death on order to form a private team to police the world and to the brutal jobs that governments, bound by law and ethics, cannot do. His five colleagues are Two (Mélanie Laurent), an intelligence expert; Three (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a sniper; Four (Ben Hardy), described as a "skywalker", which unfortunately just means that he's a parkour expert and thief, not that he has a laser sword and telekinetic powers; Five (Adria Arjona), a doctor; and Six (Dave Franco), the driver. Six is dead by the time this mission is over, which means One needs a new recruit, and this is how we learn most of how his organisation works, as we see him help a traumatised ex-Delta Force operative named Blaine (Corey Hawkins) to disappear from the world.

The plot from this point forward is mostly immaterial: once you get as far as "Deadpool, but he's Elon Musk, is an international vigilante", you have all you need. One has decided to stage a coup in the fictional country of Turgistan, and this involves killing the four generals who serve the reigning dictator, Rovach Alimov (Lior Raz), before going after Alimov himself. This involves hopsotching all over the world with absolutely no clear sense of chronology (it takes fully half of the 128-minute film before we're consistently in "the present") or geography, and engaging in various action sequences that are only unified by virtue of being cut extremely fast. Some of them are staged with more of a sense of fun than others; the best is towards the end, when One turns an entire yacht into an electromagnet, and sends armies of faceless goons smacking into walls, and the various sharp objects that are themselves smacking into the same walls. It's close enough to ultra-violent slapstick to have an actual sense of humor, something the film struggles with; while it certainly fancies itself a comedy, the jokes mostly come in the form of angry, sarcastic quipping that feels more nihilistic than playful. It's a tone set very firmly by Reynolds's performance, giving a degraded carbon copy of his stock star persona; some of the other actors are able to match it, but mostly they're ramming against it like a brick wall (Laurent, especially, can't find her footing; this is by a considerable margin the worst I've ever seen her in anything).

Other than that, it's a scattered grab bag of images and noises. The soundtrack is made up of an almost completely random selection of music, including an extraordinarily strange club remix of "O Fortuna" from Orff's Carmina Burana; the action ranges from the aforementioned violent slapstick to Fast & Furious-style car stunts to a more typical Bay-like assemblage of frantic wide shots cut together at warp speed. In the second half, it even slows down to play at being a political thriller. It is, at least, never redundant or boring. Sadly, this comes at the cost of being constantly exhausting, and generally unpleasant: it is a film that keeps itself amused by massacring extras in different arbitrary ways, and feels genuinely sadistic at points. But hey, at least it's also difficult to comprehend.