The 6th Day
2 Arnies for the price of 1 in a decent sci-fi knockabout, although the potential was there to make a classic.
By 2000, Mr. Schwarzenegger's career, while hardly in danger of making him bankrupt, was in free fall. Planet Hollywood was failing and some cinematic mis-fires in Batman & Robin, End of Days and Jingle All The Way had dropped his name off the Triple A list. It's likely that the idea behind returning to sci-fi after a bit of an absence was to recapture some of the magic of the two Terminator films and Total Recall, and The 6th Day in places looks like it could well have done it. It's a great shame that the action sequences aren't strong enough to carry what is in essence a strong plot up to the same dizzying heights of the previous works.
Here Arnie takes the role of Adam Gibson, a chartered helicopter pilot specialising in flying snowboarders to the top of remote mountains for that pristine extreme sports experience. He's married with a young daughter, which means were treated to yet another of those unconvincing everyman scenes to supposedly build up some empathy with him. This is a universal failing of his films every time it's tried even leaving aside Arnie's less than superb acting skills, for the simple reason that it's Arnie, furchristsake. We've all seen the man single handedly kill over 100 men while storming a tinpot dictators holdout in Commando, while also being a Predator vanquishing Terminator. It's sorta hard to think of him as Joe Shmoe, plumber at large after being so damn manly (or robotly, as the case may be) in his other stuff. We can be thankful that this doesn't last long enough for us to be overly irritated by his kid, Clara (Taylor Anne Reid).
Gibson heads off with his partner, Hank (Michael Rapaport) for the day's transporting, but is soon interrupted by his wife Natalie (Wendy Crewson) calling to say that their dog has died, which puts a bit of a downer on his (hideously ironic, given the events about to unfold) birthday. He's more concerned about how his 8 year old daughter will take the news, but Natalie has a solution - RePet. Why not simply clone the dog, giving an identical replacement to the extent of having the same memories and experiences. Let's get the major cloning pseudoscience out of the way here and not refer to it again.
The animals are grown as 'blanks', featureless animal-like shapes devoid of any characteristic DNA by Future Technology 8. These then have your dead mutt's DNA imprinted on to them, at which point they start magically transforming into the very spit of your ex-dog. Thanks to Future Technology 12, it's also possible to extract a complete archive of their brain through their optic nerve and flash that onto your re-pet's brain and hey presto, dog replacement in a few hours. I'm no geneticist, but this is a somewhat unlikely method I'd wager. However, it's been written that movies are allowed to have one major given while still retaining the goodwill of the audience, and here it's that perfect cloning is possible. Certainly I was more than happy to go along with it, however it does mean that the rest of film has to stay fairly grounded. I ought to mention that human cloning is outlawed by the 6th day laws (hence title), named after the creationist day that God created man. As we all know, laws were made to be broken.
Hank insists on taking on the days work, allowing the birthday boy time to consider his options. The work consists of taking CEO of RePet and figure of much religious anger Tony Goldwyn (Michael Drucker) snowboarding, after signing a non-disclosure agreement and both pilots submitting blood samples and retinal scans as 'drug tests'. Seems a little extravagant, but it's reasoning is explained later. As Goldwyn specifically asked for Gibson to fly him, Hank assumes his name while Gibson wanders off to investigate RePet, despite his firm opposition to cloning.
Gibson wakes up in a taxi, having apparently fallen asleep en-route. He eventually decides against the procedure and heads home, only to find he's already there. This surprises him. That's understandable. He has little to no time to assess the situation though, as he's quickly accosted by two vaguely official looking persons who claim that there has been a 6th day violation and that they'll help him. Their help would appear to be limited to enforcing a dirtnap for Gibson, but Arnie isn't going to stand for that, I tells ya. He evades them and escapes in his car, the goons pursuing. As car chases go it's serviceable, but for the first real action setpiece is isn't quite edited correctly and feels a touch pedestrian in places. That's not the main problem with it, though.
For the most part, the rest of the science parts are fairly believable. Cars have autopilots, holographic billboards are commonplace, fashionable hairstyles have gone even madder, when you're running low on milk it automatically reorders it for you, that sort of stuff that isn't outwith the realms of feasibility. Arnie's helicopter can be remote controlled, which is nifty and useful. A little more sketchy is the fact that it can change into a jet on retracting it's rotors, transformer style. However, if there's one thing that annoys me it's that comically named writers Cormac and Marianne Wibberley have seen fit to use laser guns, looking much like a regular hand-gun which there's just no real evidence would be possible even remotely soon, even if there was a sudden breakthrough allowing an energy clip to exist to hold the required juice to let off the number of volleys these things fire.
Worse still, director Richard Spottiswoode has seen fit to make these laser beams the cheap, demi-lightspeed kind that are slow enough to be dodgeable, rather than near-as-instantaneous-as-to-make-no-odds. In fairness, they're never explicitly stated as the Desert Eagle Laser Hand Cannon or anything, but the implication is clear and it's silly. Again, in fairness it's possibly just because the rest of the supporting science is mostly buyable but this sticks out so much that it's in danger of being a second given, at which point people start to notice how daft it is.
It's a pity, as it really hurts all of the otherwise decent if unremarkable action scenes which was the films weakest area already. If these had the quality of the Terminators or Total Recall then the ideas behind this would be enough to push it into the 'something special' category, sharing the same thought provoking concepts that make it more than just a gallery of explosions. Not only is the concept interesting by itself, it's admirable that steps have been taken to show viewpoints both for and against cloning, of humans in particular. The reluctance to go down the one-dimensional scare story path is certainly appreciated by this reviewer although by its very nature it has to have the clone-makers as evil, but the procedure itself is viewed with more neutrality than I was expecting. Of course, the film is also loaded with religious devices as well, what with God creating us in his image and now humans creating themselves in their own image and suchlike, but as I'm a completely Godless heathen I focused more on the rational arguments and moral rationales behind the debate, rather than blindly relying on 'God told us not to', which isn't a valid argument at all for anything.
There are all manner of interesting ways that a story like this could progress, but half the fun of it would be working it out for yourself before the characters do. As such i think I'll skip the details of the rest of the films events. As a broad overview, Gibson spends a while evading these murderous goons, quickly revealed to be under the employ of Goldwyn as it becomes clear that something is fishy about his operation. Gibson soon decides to fight back, and along the way to try and work out how to get his family back from the alternate Alan currently in his place. Eventually his family is threatened, to add more spice to the proceedings and he has to dig them out of trouble at the same time as taking on Goldwyn.
There's a lot of nice touches here, although it's not classic Arnie. The oneliner setups have grown far too laboured by this point after all the good, obvious ones have gone. Still, the moment where he doesn't shoot two security guards in front of his daughter on the basis that he feels she's been exposed to enough graphic violence from the media wouldn't look out of place in any of his better-regarded films, and Hank's virtual girlfriend (Jennifer Gareis) is a hoot. Cloning allows for some nice situations towards the end of the film, and of course it's an evil despot's wet dream. Henchmen being killed by angered hero? Just bust out another clone of them!
Perhaps I'm being overly harsh on the science, after all I'll happily accept George Lucas pulling lightsabers out of his arse and the Starship Enterprise warping around willy-nilly, but there's a crucial difference. These (and others of the ilk) have been set in such a timeframe as to basically say that everything is hugely, unimaginably advanced and can do anything, and as such believing in it isn't really an option. The 6th Day sets itself in the near future, so near that everything absolutely has to be believable for it to succeed. It almost does, but asks you to make one too many jumps.
To be honest, even if using more conventional firearms the action scenes would perhaps still be too flat to make it great, but I'd be more inclined to forgive it's shortcomings on the strength of it's ideas. As it stands, it's an enjoyable movie that also know when to poke fun at itself when it gets too silly. For example, Arnie shoots a goons leg off with a laser gun, who then hops about complaining that it's ruined his new pair of boots. Stupid, but if you can just get yourself recloned then grievous bodily harm become less serious than it would otherwise be.
It's a solid movie and by no means the worst in Arnie's career, but lacks the same wow factor that's in all of his best works. Oh, and if anyone can tell me the purpose of putting the respected and most talented actor in the film, Robert Duvall in an entirely pointless, extraneous role I'd be gratified to find out.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 TippyMarks.
Michael Rapaport (Hank Morgan)
Tony Goldwyn (Michael Drucker)
Wendy Crewson (Natalie Gibson)
Robert Duvall (Dr. Griffin Weir)
Taylor Anne Reid (Clara Gibson)
Jennifer Gareis (Virtual Girlfriend)