No rest for the unworldly Schwarzenegger in uneven ‘6th Day’

November 19, 2012

Several weeks ago, I watched the 1993 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle The Last Action Hero for the first time and found it engaging, if somewhat underwhelming. The other night, I watched a more recent Governator flick, The 6th Day; sadly, this 2000 picture is rather more leaden.

The setup is fine. In the near future, a human cloning experiment ended badly, for reasons which aren’t made clear, and the endeavor has been outlawed. Still, black-clad rich guy Michael Drucker is pursuing cloning by a variety of means, some but not all of which are legal. Drucker’s motivations are varied, with his desire to preserve his own empire playing a significant role.

One day, Drucker takes a few hours off for high-altitude snow-boarding. It’s a fateful excursion. After an anti-cloning extremist attacks the party, heroic family guy and helijet pilot Adam Gibson is covertly, illegally and mistakenly cloned by Drucker’s cronies. When he returns to his own house at night, Gibson is astonished to discover an identical version of himself enjoying a surprise birthday party with his wife, daughter and friends.

Gibson is standing by himself on his own front porch, still trying to process this unnerving sight, when a man and woman walk up. In a matter of seconds, the pair attempt to murder Gibson. This being a Schwarzenegger film, he escapes. A car chase and gun battle ensue, during which two of Gibson’s four pursuers are killed.

Ultimately, Gibson infiltrates Drucker’s corporate headquarters not once but twice. Before all is said and done, he achieves a sort of reconciliation with his identical twin. Guns are fired, goons are killed (some more than once), morality is debated, expensive-looking sets are wrecked and justice is served.

What surprised me about The 6th Day (a reference to Genesis, when God created man and woman, and the awesome power that some humans threaten to usurp) was that the movie’s nods to philosophy are more convincing and intriguing than its action sequences.

Spouses and co-screenwriters Marianne and Cormac Wibberley convincingly depict Gibson as a man who is creeped out by Re-Pet, which clones deceased animal companions. It’s perfectly safe, Hank, his business partner, assures Gibson after the latter’s family dog has to be put down. Natalie, Gibson’s wife, acknowledges that death is a natural part of the order of things but argues that their daughter, Clara, needn’t learn about it at age 8. Still, Gibson defies logic by insisting that a cloned pet couldn’t possibly be safe.

Drucker himself puts forth several interesting arguments in favor of cloning. Cloned fish have ended the threat of starvation, he says. Cloned organs can reduce the toll taken by terminal illness. Human cloning will allow the species to prolong the existence of future Mozarts and Martin Luther Kings Junior.

Gibson pointedly asks Drucker who will exercise the power formerly reserved to God. The debate doesn’t go much beyond that, although one character poignantly murmurs, “Kinda takes the fun out of living,” about the inauthenticity of being a clone.

A moving subplot with human cloning pioneer Griffin Weir (a rather wooden Robert Duvall) and his dying wife flesh out additional emotional matters related to the duplication of life.

All to the good. But director Roger Spottiswoode’s action sequences rarely come to life, with the exception of the decent car chase mentioned above. Too often, battle is done at night, and I found it unnecessarily difficult to make out what was happening. The aerial special effects compare unfavorably to modern-day sequences.

Perhaps worst of all, although the goons appear superficially menacing, the script just doesn’t make them nasty enough. Even as innocent lives are threatened by the villains, it’s hard to imagine that Spottiswoode, the Wibberleys and the other folks in charge of this production will allow them to be snuffed. This is a PG-13 Schwarzenegger vehicle, for pete’s sake, not an R-rated production like The Terminator.

Also, I noted in my review of The Last Action Hero that Schwarzenegger seemed to be at his peak. In The 6th Day, at age 53, the future California governor appears to be past it, at least from a physical perspective. And his performance for Spottiswoode isn’t nearly as engaging as the one John McTiernan elicited for Action Hero.

One final quibble. A few years ago, I found science fiction movies with old-fashioned bullets jarring; after all, Star Wars and Star Trek and the Battlestar Galactica of my youth had accustomed me to the flash of energy weapons. Now that I’ve fallen under the spell of Firefly and the rebooted Galactica, I had the opposite reaction watching The 6th Day: The blue bolts of light leaping out of gun muzzles seemed out of place to me.

As for my overview of The 6th Day? I can recommend it only to extreme fans of action flicks, science fiction movies, Schwarzenegger films or pop-culture depictions of cloning. Everyone else might do better to skip this picture and give their eyeballs a rest.

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