The 6th Day” is a mostly standard-issue latter-day Arnold Schwarzenegger actioner spiked with a creepily plausible cloning angle. Sporting more fights, chases, gadgetry, effects and general mayhem than the star’s 1999 “comeback” picture, “End of Days,” this Sony release should benefit commercially somewhat from its PG-13 rating, although it lacks the edge and impact of Schwarzenegger’s earlier R-rated blockbusters due to the softening of the action and of the strong man’s persona. Commercial results look to fall somewhere in between those for “End of Days,” which generated a disappointing $67 million domestically, and thesp’s 1996 “Eraser,” which clocked $101 million in North America. Star’s overseas totals generally run, at minimum, 40% more than the local take.
Clones of all kinds have popped up in countless sci-fi films in recent years, but rarely have they played as central, or credible, a role as they do in this otherwise formulaic story set in a near-future in which human cloning is illegal but is practiced surreptitiously by a heinous biotech corporation. It’s a thoroughly recognizable world in which animal cloning, for example, is commonly accepted so that kids never have to be deprived of their cuddly, furry loved ones, and so that the world can be well nourished by a renewed food supply.
In this context, adventure helicopter pilot Adam Gibson (Schwarzenegger) is in some respects a traditionalist throwback; he drives a ’50s Cadillac, doesn’t want to coddle his daughter with an identical replacement when the family dog croaks, and believes in “the natural process of life –you’re born, you live and you die.”
But in his professional realm, Adam embraces high-tech; in a nifty early sequence, he remote-pilots a second, unoccupied helicopter while zooming through some mountain canyons in the chopper of his Double X Charter partner Hank (Michael Rapaport).
The pair consent to a fancy fingerprinting and eyesight-testing process requested by a special customer, genetic engineering tycoon Michael Drucker (Tony Goldwyn). Adam should have known better, for when he soon thereafter returns home to attend his birthday party, he finds an exact duplicate of himself already celebrating with his family and friends.
Unenlightened as to how or why he was cloned, mild-mannered homebody Adam is instantly forced into action-hero mode. Pursued by Drucker’s goons on a wild chase into the night, Adam outdrives them in his old Caddy, eluding their electric zap guns in a world seemingly voided of bullets, but finally ends up pirouetting off a cliff into the drink, now understanding the full extent of his jeopardy.
Husband and wife first-time scenarists Cormac and Marianne Wibberley concoct numerous other requisite action scenes which enable Schwarzenegger to do what comes naturally, even if he now does it rather less roughly and with some hesitation. In a surprisingly direct (and intentionally humorous) commentary on the recent brouhaha over screen violence, and the star’s own desire to tone it down, Adam is going after some villains when he remarks, re his daughter, “I don’t want to expose her to any graphic violence. She already gets enough of that from the media.”
All the same, there’s plenty of it here, even though it’s more generalized and far less bloody than equivalent combat would have produced in the past. Adam repeatedly offs two Drucker enforcers (Sarah Wynter and Rod Rowland), clones who keep being reproduced and coming back for more; zaps off the lower leg of the chief henchman (Michael Rooker), only to see him return intact; almost solves his problem by shooting his own clone (who provokes Adam’s jealousy by making whoopee with his wife) but can’t quite come to terms with killing “himself,” and has a climactic confrontation with Drucker that forces the ice-blooded tycoon into an emergency attempt to clone himself, a slimy procedure that, again, would likely have been played much more gruesomely a year or two ago.
As routinely staged by director Roger Spottiswoode and shot in a kind of gloomy eternal night by lenser Pierre Mignot that all too closely resembles the nocturnal funk of “End of Days,” the action scenes prove functional, if uninspired, and are generally trumped in interest by the way the film works pointed, provocative and legitimate views of cloning issues into a genre format. When faced with anti-cloning protests, the fearsomely bright Drucker makes cogent points about replenishing the world’s fish supply and replacing terminally ill people with healthy clones. Latter point hits home in a subplot involving Drucker’s genius lead scientist (Robert Duvall), whose wife is dying and doesn’t want to be cloned into perpetuity.
On the other hand, Drucker moves insidiously behind the scenes to manipulate politicians into changing the “6th Day law” that bans cloning, all the while breaking the law himself within the confines of his vast HQ/lab building, in which full-sized future “humans” hang suspended in tanks waiting to be activated by personality imprints.
While the ease and speed with which the company goons, for instance, are reproduced strains credulity, the basic moral issues, the opposition and possible connivance of corporate and political interests, and the potential for a rogue figure to flaunt rules and standards are all presented in ways that provoke some thought even as the drama plays itself out in conventional fashion.
In its lighter moments, film has a little fun with the virtual future, giving Hank a voluptuous virtual girlfriend so completely compliant that he has no desire for a real woman, and presenting a police station in which suspects are offered virtual court-appointed attorneys and psychiatrists. Well-known cigar aficionado Schwarzenegger clearly relishes a scene in which his character, in defiance of a nationwide smoking ban, sneaks a stogie in his garage.
Schwarzenegger, playing a family man who gets to spend almost no time with his family, looks leaner than ever and tosses off his trademark quips (“I might be back,” he tells a cloned pet salesman) with a self-consciousness that betrays an acknowledgment of how long he’s been doing this routine. Goldwyn is chillingly detestable as the ruthless businessman who boasts that, “I’m just taking over where God left off,” and assorted henchmen are well delineated physically. Effects work is very good overall, although the repeated herky-jerky scene transitions quickly emerge as a tiresome affectation.