Review Round-Up: “6 Underground” And “The Death And Life Of John F. Donovan”


Folks, if it happens to be a Saturday after a very busy week, that can only mean one thing, right? Yes, it’s time for another review round-up to help catch us all up on some of the various other releases hitting theaters this weekend. As per the usual, we have a couple of very different films to look at. This time, it’s the Netflix action flick 6 Underground, as well as the small scale drama The Death and Life of John F. Donovan. They come from two very different storytellers in Michael Bay and Xavier Dolan. Are either of these worth your time? Perhaps both of them? Maybe neither? Read on to find out what I thought…

6 Underground

Michael Bay only knows how to make one kind of film. Whether it’s involving alien robots, soldiers, spies, or some combination of each, he crafts chaotic action cinema that’s almost pornographic in its disdain for logic and physics. For some, that’s part of his clear charm and a real selling point. For yours truly, it’s just another reason why Bay is one of the least enjoyable directors in the business. 6 Underground, his new flick, and a collaboration with Netflix, sees him freed from any financial constraints, and able to indulge his every silly whim. Unfortunately, only he, along with star Ryan Reynolds, appears to be having any fun at all. Everyone else will find it to be mindless and utter nonsense.

This movie is a mostly light hearted action romp, centered on what’s being described as a new kind of action hero. Essentially, a billionaire (Reynolds) has decided to fake his own death and go about his days fighting evil and injustice. For him, being dead means being free. He’s recruited a half dozen other individuals from around the world, not just for their unique skills, but also because they want to go off the grid like him. Deleting their pasts allows them to take down dictators, warlords, and other such criminals, all without a trace. When they lose a team member at the start of a mission to topple the corrupt ruler of an oppressed country, the leader, known only as One, goes off to find a new member, recruiting a military sniper (Corey Hawkins) for the job. Together, the group will attempt to change the world. The aforementioned Bay directs a screenplay by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. The rest of Reynolds’ team includes Mélanie Laurent as Two, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Three, Ben Hardy as Four, Adria Arjona as Five and Dave Franco as Six, plus Hawkins as Seven. Supporting players include Payman Maadi, among others. Bojan Bazelli handles the cinematography, while Lorne Balfe composed the score.

The director’s signature Bayhem is on full display, but beyond one single concept involving magnets, none of it impresses. Instead, it simply becomes tiresome, upping the ante without ever once making you care. Bay has never met a shot he can’t cut to be even quicker, less coherent, and more full of nonsense. Here, it actually could have had a bit of a kinetic charm to it, but he goes overboard, embracing all of his worst instincts. Quickly, it becomes clear that the two hours and change spent with this flick will be one note, repetitive, and overblown in all manners.

6 Underground is almost a Michael Bay parody, but writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick are better than this. They’re able to come up with clever action, such as the Deadpool franchise, but here they allow none of that to filter through Bay. Instead, there’s just mayhem, reckless disregard for human life, and the occasional Ryan Reynolds quip. Reynolds appears to be having fun, but someone like Corey Hawkins, Mélanie Laurent, or Payman Maadi are out and out wasted.

Without question, the only reason to watch 6 Underground is if you love Michael Bay and/or Ryan Reynolds. Otherwise, this is a tired exercise in excess. Streaming on Netflix will allow this one to be half watched, at best, and that’s really the only way to get much enjoyment out of it. Pay as little attention as possible and you’ll care less about how preposterous it all is. Otherwise, it’s Bay trolling audiences once again.

The Death and Life of John F. Donovan

How quickly an emerging auteur can lose his critical backing. For Xavier Dolan, he burst on to the cinematic scene in his very early 20s, suggesting that he could be the hot new thing in independent moviemaking. Since then, his movies have run the gamut, suggesting brilliance, but largely, with the exception of Mommy, dividing folks. Now, after a lengthy delay, his newest flick is out, and it’s his worst yet. The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, while clearly autobiographical in some ways, is barely coherent and represents his most indulgent effort to date. Cut nearly in half from its original four hour running time, something was clearly lost, though it’s fair to wonder if that longer cut was perhaps even worse? Either way, this is a terrible motion picture.

The film focuses on the relationship between a famous actor and a young boy, specifically the written correspondence they shared. While we see elements of the relationship between John F. Donovan (Kit Harrington) and Rupert Turner (Jacob Tremblay), the main focus is on ten years after the death of the American television star. Now an actor himself, an older Rupert (Ben Schnetzer) begins to remember the letters during sn interview, sharing the impact that it had on both of their lives. During that time, we flash back to both John and Rupert in the earlier days, as parallels form. It’s a potentially powerful story, though one not successfully told in the slightest by Dolan. Of course, Dolan directs, co-writes with Jacob Tierney, and also co-edits here. Gabriel Yared composed the score, while André Turpin handled the cinematography. The A-list cast also includes Kathy Bates, Thandie Newton, Natalie Portman, Susan Sarandon, and more.

Almost none of Dolan’s talents appear here. Did the cutting of the film, including a whole subplot featuring Jessica Chastain as another reporter character, have something to do with it? Was it beyond saving even before then? We’ll never know. Taken as a final product here, the flick is incoherent at times, boring throughout, and unable to competently make any of its points. Dolan clearly finds it to be a passionate and personal story, but that never really comes across to the audience, rendering it an abject failure.

The Death and Life of John F. Donovan is a movie that could have been powerful. Even just having the cast that it has suggested potential. However, Dolan may have been better served looking in other directions, as the casting becomes more distracting than anything else. When there’s so little to grab on to in a work like this, a familiar face can offer a glimmer of hope. Instead, what you get is yet another disappoint to pile on to the mountain that appears during the slightly over two hour running time.

It’s always a shame when an indie gets battered around like this, but fair is fair. The Death and Life of John F. Donovan is one of the worst films of the year, plain and simple. Whatever you’ve heard about this one is true. Ever since it had a disastrous film festival screening about a year ago, it seemed like a prime candidate to be quietly released and forgotten about. Well, here we are. Unless you have loved every single one of Xaviar Dolan’s efforts previously, this is a movie to stay far away from.

6 Underground and The Death and Life of John F. Donovan are in theaters/streaming on Netflix (for the former) now!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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