It’s hard to know which is true of the makers of The 6th Day — did their reach exceed their grasp, or did fogged vision keep them from seeing what to reach for? A lightly engaging sci-fi thriller that’s short on thrills because it tries too hard to be long on the sci-fi, The 6th Day sketches a future where cloning has advanced to the point where organisms can be duplicated to their current age and synchorded — that is, made synchronous with the memories of the parent, such that the copy and original are indistinguishable. It’s legal with animals, but bad results put the kibosh on human experimentation — or did they?
Enter Adam Gibson (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a helicopter pilot who’s charged with transporting Michael Drucker (Tony Goldwyn), CEO of a consortium of cloning-related industries like the animal-duping RePet. Through a set-up far too convoluted to be worth explaining, Adam (nudge, nudge) comes home to find himself supplanted by a clone. Drucker’s people, who need to keep all evidence of illicit cloning on the Q.T., come to knock Adam (wink, wink) off, but he escapes through Schwarzeneggerian derring-do and tries to determine what course of action led him here and which to pursue to get him out.
It sounds like basic Schwarzenegger, and it is. The two set pieces of note — a lab and a rooftop — don’t really allow for anything more clever than abundant gunplay. And while Schwarzenegger has natural screen presence, he has to be well directed to really get him to act — James Cameron in particular is great with him, and particularly great with him in True Lies. Under director Roger Spottiswoode (Tomorrow Never Dies), his performance doesn’t really come together, except in the scenes featuring two Adams (get it? Adam?), which were obviously made with extra care and attention.
Furthermore, Spottiswoode fumbles everything that could be construed as a plot twist. While sci-fi/horror/action thrillers are usually formulaic, the plot developments of The 6th Day that can only be intended as zingers or, at least, interesting, are dead right out the gate. From a director who’s been making movies for 20 years, sharper storytelling is expected.
The apparent truth of the matter is that the filmmakers are taking the ethical issues of cloning so seriously that it’s distracted them from making sure the vehicle itself is well-tuned. Weighty issues often ride onto screens on the backs of genre exercises, but in the worst-case scenarios, the movies get derailed by them as The 6th Day does. Almost every facet of the debate over genetic modification is included, and while in many ways the story flows admirably, the seams necessary to patch it all together are showing. And while it makes an effort to not take sides in progressive sci-fi fashion, it can’t get away from its reactionary, “fire bad” horror heart.
Just because the movie disappoints doesn’t mean it’s not a pleasant romp — it makes fun use of its great cast, which also includes Robert Duvall as the cloning savant, and it certainly hurries speedily along with as few painful bon mots as possible.
The movie’s three major liabilities, however — a stiffer-than-necessary Schwarzenegger, obvious plot twists and the preponderance of “issues” — are forgotten for one great scene ... at the very end of the movie. It’s an ending that’s handled so slyly you can almost believe that Spottiswoode didn’t realize its potentially double-bladed nature. Almost. Suffice it to say it’s a legitimate surprise that really adds emotional resonance to the issues the movie otherwise debates rather dryly. If the whole movie was this graceful, it would have been a knockout.
Flak Magazine, November 26, 2000