I’m sure many people (like me) have watched the trailers to “The 6th Day” with an automatic groan. Why is that? What are the elements that on first glance seem to make this film so unappealing? Well, one of the problems is that the movie looks like a rip-off of “Total Recall” by way of a rip-off of “The Matrix”. The more obvious problem would be the star, Arnold Schwarzenegger. While audiences fell in love with in during the 1980’s on through 1991’s “Terminator 2: Judgement Day”, his track record has been more than a little spotty since then. This period contains the following works: “Last Action Hero”, “True Lies”, “Junior”, “Eraser”, “Jingle All the Way”, “Batman and Robin”, and most recently “End of Days”. These films range from tolerably mediocre (“Eraser”), to misogynistic and right-wing (“True Lies”), to downright excruciating (most of them). Only “True Lies” was a hit. Will this new film really be any different?
Actually, yes. “The 6th Day” takes place in the “near future”. My best guess would be in about forty years. Technology has advanced tremendously, and the effects have trickled down to even the most mundane aspects of daily life. The area of science that drives the story is genetics. Ruthless business tycoon Drucker (Tony Goldwyn) and scientist Graham Weir (Robert Duvall) have combined their talents to create mega-corporation Replacement Technologies. The genetic codes of everything from plants to people have been cracked, allowing for the generation of special strains of food and the cloning of human organs for transplant. They even have a subsidiary called Repet, which will allow you to clone your beloved family pet after it dies. If the remains of the original animal are brought in within twelve hours of death, or while it’s still alive, technicians can even download the contents of the its brain and load then into the newly cloned pet.
Strictly forbidden, however, is applying this process toward cloning an entire person. Due to an unspecified incident a decade prior, by law any human clone will be executed upon discovery.
Director Roger Spottiswoode takes his time to introduce us to this world as we follow our hero, Adam Gibson (Schwarzenegger), on his daily routine. It’s not just any day though, it’s Adam’s birthday. As Adam was a fighter pilot in some South American war, he and his partner Hank (Michæl Rapaport) are now commercial pilots flying a neat aircraft that’s a cross between a helicopter and a small jet. When the pair reach the airport, they find that one of their scheduled passengers is none other than Drucker. Later, after completing some weird analysis required by his staff, Adam realizes he needs to run some errands before returning home to his surprise birthday party. Drucker’s people has specifically request Adam for their flight into the mountains, but as they don’t know which partner is which, Hank flies solo, pretending to be Adam.
Something bad happens on that flight. Adam knows nothing of this, but somehow, as a result, when he reaches home, he looks into the window only to discover another Adam Gibson celebrating his birthday with his family. Nothing good can come of this.
Now Arnie is not an idiot, and I’m sure he realizes that he’s burned through a great deal of the public’s good will. He also served as a producer on “The 6th Day”, so much of the blame or credit for the quality of this movie rests on his broad shoulders. Noting that, is it actually any good?
There’s good news and bad news. [ First the good: ] It’s mostly a great, tight script, courtesy of writers Cormac and Marianne Wibberley, remarkably free of any plot holes in a very complicated story. You can find a lot of elements from the two Philip K. Dick movies, “Blade Runner” and “Total Recall”, but they’re handled in a different manner. All of the new ethical and moral questions surrounding the ability to perfectly clone humans are all addressed, and for the most part, the filmmakers avoid providing any easy answers.
An appreciated element is the character of Adam Gibson. As written, he’s just a normal guy who loves his family. Live a normal man, though caught in extraordinary circumstances, he’s not one to kill easily, unless the lives of himself or his family are in jeopardy.
[ Now for the bad: ] Basically, what should have been a fantastic, taut sci-fi thriller got wedged into a Schwarzenegger action flick. The small problem is Drucker and his crew of goons, led by Michæl Rooker. Drucker iswaaaaay too cavalier with the use of cloning technology that could bring him a world of trouble if ever caught. Worse, the goon squad is made out to be a bunch of colorful characters at the expense of being either intelligent, or particularly competent. Most of them I wouldn’t trust with my car keys, much less to carry out very sensitive black ops.
The bigger problem is what actually dulled my enthusiasm in the first place, Arnold. Arnie’s image and schtick worked great ten years ago to make him a readily identifiable presence in the multiplex. However, as that style of film has fallen out of favor and age and health issues have caught up with him, his early limitations have come back to haunt him as well. If a big star was going to play his part, someone normally dimensioned without an accent like Mel Gibson or Russell Crowe would have worked great. Hell, Dustin Hoffman, or Richard Dreyfuss could have worked.
Unfortunately, Arnold is physically all wrong for the part of a normal man who isn’t supposed to be capable of superhuman feats. Worse, Arnie throws out a couple of the old one-liners which sound horribly out of place within the context of the picture. The end result is that the audience is too aware that at all times they’re watching Arnold Schwarzenegger. Just his presence throws off the whole tone of the film.
Where is there a place today for the big lug? He’s both too old and lacking the mobility to participate in any kind of “Matrix”-esque Kung Fu shenanigans. Despite his noted drive and ambition, he seems to have done nothing to try to curb his accent in the last twenty years. Dolph Lungren, Stellan Skarsgard, and Peter Stormare all come for European non-English speaking countries but all can speak unaccented English. Both Stallone and Arnie seem to be struggling with their careers as both are over 50 and neither can physically “morph” into parts outside of their narrow range.
Helmer Spottiswoode does do a decent job, but he’s really just a journeyman director; experienced, competent, reliable, but not an artist. As the movie reminded me so much of “Total Recall”, I remembered that at one time, that film was due to be made by director David Cronenberg and star Richard Dreyfuss. Few filmmakers would be as attuned to Philip K. Dick-style material as Cronenberg, and with that team, “The 6th Day” might have turned out to be a science fiction classic. Instead, it’s an above average Schwarzenegger flick. Maybe the next time we see either the star or this kind of material, one of them can find how to do better.