Published November 1, 2000
The Sixth Day, directed by Roger Spottiswoode, is a movie about cloning that is itself a clone — a genetic duplicate of every other Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle of the last 15 or 20 years. Actually, it is a clone of a clone of a clone, since the Schwarzenegger movie is itself a clone of a Lucas/Spielberg, Indiana Jones-style po mo action flick, which in turn is a clone of a real movie — that is, one which expected us to believe in its hero as something approximating a real person. Unfortunately, cloning technology back in the 1970s was not what it is today — still less, as we learn here, what it will be in the future — so the old-fashioned movie came out looking like a cartoon. Nowadays, of course, we have come to expect nothing better from the movies than cartoons, and in the future this will doubtless be even more true. Therefore, we are quite happy to appreciate the cartoonish Arnold for what he is, which is an antiseptic, genetically-engineered version of the classic movie hero.
Significantly, cartoons are chiefly notable for their protean sense of reality. In cartoons, characters are regularly shot or blown up and then reappear in the next frame as good as new. In the new world of cloning the same thing happens, only with a plausible superstructure of scientific explanation. The dead ones have not only their genetic material on file but also their memories downloaded and regularly updated in a database kept in the gleaming corporate headquarters belonging to one Michael Drucker (Tony Goldwyn). There, he keeps also a crop of “blank” grown bodies in quasi-fetal poses in vast tanks of some kind of amniotic fluid. Properly inoculated with the dead person’s DNA and with the latest downloading of his memories installed, the blanks are fashioned into human creatures indistinguishable from the dead person with, apparently, no more difficulty than the Coyote or Sylvester the Cat or Elmer Fudd regenerate themselves after similarly lethal accidents.
All this must be done, however, surreptitiously, and in the face of a nationwide legal ban on human cloning. Ten years before the events of this movie there had been some kind of disastrous experience with human cloning which led to the ban. The story concerns the accidental cloning of Adam Gibson (Mr. Schwarzenegger), whom the Drucker people mistakenly believe has been killed in the assassination of Drucker himself. When Drucker is instantly re-incarnated, so is Gibson — only it wasn’t him but Hank (Michael Rapaport), his partner in a helicopter rental business, who was killed. As a result, there are now two Gibsons instead of one, both of them, in spite of their Scottish name, speaking with thick Austrian accents. One of them (it doesn’t matter which) must be disposed of by the Drucker goons, led by Michael Rooker, before the duplicate alerts the authorities to the illegal cloning operation.
You will be pleased but not surprised to know that both Arnolds are up to the task of defending themselves and their little family — wife Natasha (Wendy Crewson) and daughter Clara — against these determined assassins. But both are more and more surprised as the bad guys apparently keep coming back from the dead. Eventually getting the idea, both Arnolds go after the sinister Drucker himself, in his corporate lair, together with the conscience-stricken scientist, Griffin Weir (Robert Duvall) who has developed the cloning technology for him. Weir is preoccupied with the impending death of his beloved wife — who is herself a clone of the wife who already died five years before. He learns that Drucker has secretly given the clone another fatal disease as a form of planned obsolescence and is understandably upset — as he is by the wife’s insistence that she doesn’t want to be brought back yet again.
Nothing much is done with this moral problem. As Weir reaches his crisis of conscience he is simply shot. Here and elsewhere there are occasional gestures in the direction of a quasi-Frankensteinian “message” to the movie, but in the end it is too busy being a Schwarzenegger movie to bother about that. The little post-modern jokes really are its raison d’être. That and the special effects, of course. These are predictably spectacular, though somewhat disappointingly low-tech for such a futuristic movie. The jokes are even better, with Arnold carrying off with his stolid Teutonic aplomb a number of variations on the inevitable theme of “I haven’t been myself lately.” At one point the bad guy, Drucker, is shouting at his hired goons about their failure to kill either the Gibson original or the Gibson clone and says: “There are four of you and one of him — well, two of him, if you see what I mean.” I also like the bit where Gibson gets through Drucker’s HQ’s security system by carrying with him the manicured thumb of the female goon, shot off in a ray-gun fight, for use wherever the electronic guardians instruct him to “insert thumb.”
There are also some gentle satirical shafts intermingled with the other jokes — smoking having been made illegal, for example, Gibson and his wife enjoy the guilty pleasure of a shared stogie (of the kind which, everyone knows, Arnold smokes in real-life) out in the garage one night. The other Arnold pretends to be as upset about his doppelgänger’s smoking his cigars as sleeping with his wife. Later, when swooped on by those she thinks the police, Natalie says: “This isn’t about the cigars is it?” Subsequently captured along with their daughter, she is rescued by one of the Arnolds (who knows or cares which?), who says to one of the goons who has been guarding them: “Don’t move: my daughter is just inside that door, and I don’t want to expose her to any graphic violence. She gets enough of that from the media.” If this kind of thing seems like a laff riot to you, you may enjoy this movie.