The Sixth Day

(Roger Spottiswoode, USA, 2000)


The movies of Arnold Schwarzenegger are beginning to blur into each other. A decent guy who finds himself suddenly alienated from his family and struggling to regain his place in the normal world; an extended, action-packed pursuit involving inhuman killing machines; the possibility of faked memories and identities in a high-technological age – The Sixth Day is a palimpsest of elements from the Terminator films, Total Recall (1990) and Eraser (1996).

The hook here is cloning. The schematic battle lines are drawn early on: on the one hand Adam (Schwarzenegger), who resists the incursion of reproductive technology into his home (his wife wants him to clone their daughter's pet); on the other hand, a slickly evil corporate wizard, Drucker (Tony Goldwyn), who dispatches a gang of illegally cloned thugs to do his dirty work.

As soon as we spot Drucker's top scientist, Griffin (Robert Duvall), a gentle chap with a sickly wife, we know where the fault line of the plot is going to lay. But before that gives way, there are plenty of mediocre action scenes to endure – all pepped up by meaningless stop-motion and graphic effects that are supposedly meant to remind us of the film's 'deeper' themes.

The Sixth Day is one of those Hollywood spectaculars that pretends to be playing with fire, while extinguishing the sparks at every point. Its violence is oddly immaterial: dead or dying clones just re-clone themselves instantly, and even the key moment where Adam must murder a member of the anti-cloning resistance movement is nervously underplayed.

As in Face/Off (1997), the story tries to generate a naughty frisson from the notion that the hero's identical replacement will instantly bed the unknowing wife. The convolutions whereby the film eventually undoes this scenario are bewildering to behold.

Schwarzenegger always needs strong direction, as well as a role that cannily plays up his advantages while playing down his limitations. The Sixth Day is one of his worst showcases. The more that he feigns interaction with special effect creatures – especially his own clone – the less natural and convincing he becomes. His dialogue delivery has never sounded so cripplingly self-conscious.

Taking the cue from the Biblical reference in the film's title, Adam sometimes finds himself musing on the question of the soul in an age of cloning. He even comes to the point of questioning the strict division between human and non-human nature. But don't expect the agonised rumination on such issues found in Blade Runner (1982).

In The Sixth Day's most inadvertently hilarious moment, Arnie 1 and Arnie 2 exchange a few deep lines about the definition of love, family and belonging, until one of them cheerily draws the seminar to a close by exclaiming: "Enough philosophy!"

© Adrian Martin January 2001

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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