Hollywood, which has been cloning action-adventure movies for years, has gotten around to making an action-adventure movie about cloning. It's called "The 6th Day," and whom does it star? Arnold Schwarzenegger. Twice.
Even before computers improved the process in films like the Michael Keaton-starring "Multiplicity," actors sharing the screen with themselves was not a new phenomenon. Still, it's an arresting sensation, something that seems almost contrary to nature, to see Schwarzenegger playing against Schwarzenegger.
For the man is so sui generis, so preeminently himself, that seeing him twice is like going to Yellowstone National Park and finding a pair of Old Faithfuls sharing the same plot of land. Even the idea of Schwarzenegger playing Danny De Vito's identical twin in "Twins" was not half so strange.
Aesthetic considerations aside, of all the guys to clone without his knowledge, don't the villains know better than to pick on Our Arnold? Aren't they familiar with the track record, couldn't they predict that the closest he's going to get to a serious wound is a nick while shaving? And once you've gotten the big guy riled, you might as well have challenged John Wayne to a barroom brawl. Or Shane to a gunfight.
In all fairness to the villains, Schwarzenegger's Adam Gibson does seem like quite the family man, down to his loving wife (Wendy Crewson) and adoring daughter. And though "The 6th Day's" press notes describe Adam as a "decorated fighter pilot in what was known as the Rainforest War," none of that has made it into the film, so how were the bad guys to know how potentially lethal a character he was?
In a further attempt to distance Adam's character from Arnold's Terminator image, "The 6th Day" (written by first-timers Cormac Wibberley & Marianne Wibberley and directed by the veteran Roger Spottiswoode) opens with our hero celebrating a birthday and worriedly scanning his face for wrinkles. Not to worry, even a year older he's still capable of making a muscle that could incapacitate a horse.
Since "The 6th Day" is eager to have a "ripped from today's headlines" feeling, it puts headlines about the cloning of Dolly the sheep and the mapping of human DNA right up on the screen. The film is set in the near future, where things look pretty much, but not totally, the same.
It's a world where your refrigerator automatically keeps track of your family's milk needs, and where Adam's pal Hank (Michael Rapaport) enjoys the favors of a virtual girlfriend. And it's a world where a company called RePet is taking animal cloning to new levels.
With advertising slogans like "cloning is love" and "where love means no surprises," RePet will duplicate your recently deceased companion and do such a good job of it that even the replacement animals have no idea they are not the real thing.
An old-fashioned kind of guy, Adam Gibson wants nothing to do with any of this. He doesn't even want to give his daughter a super-realistic doll called the Sim-Pal Cindy that never shuts up (an idea that came from writer John Sayles). Death, he says, is part of the natural process of life, and it ought to stay that way.
Michael Drucker of Replacement Technologies (an effective Tony Goldwyn), the world's most powerful human, sees things differently. Though human cloning is illegal, he's been collaborating with scientist Griffin Weir (an underused Robert Duvall) to make it happen, and let's just say they've made a lot of progress. Just how much progress becomes clear to Adam when he comes home one night and finds what looks suspiciously like a clone version of himself getting all the presents at what had been billed as his own birthday party.
Adam is, not surprisingly, perplexed by this turn of events. "I know it sounds crazy," he tells a disbelieving police officer. "I can't hardly believe it myself." Once the villains realize that Adam knows what they've been up to, they think it'll be easy to eliminate him. Obviously, these guys have not been to the movies much the past 20 years.
One of "The 6th Day's" devices is the notion that its awfully hard to tell a clone from the original person, and though this leads to some wry humor ("Doesn't anyone stay dead anymore," Adam asks plaintively at one point), it's also confusing and saps our interest. Given how generic everything else about "The 6th Day" is, from its standard-issue action to its halfhearted dialogue and acting, that's one situation even two Schwarzeneggers aren't enough to solve.
* MPAA rating: PG-13, for strong action violence, brief strong language and some sensuality. Times guidelines: a considerable amount of traditional action-movie violence.
'The 6th Day'
Arnold Schwarzenegger: Adam Gibson
Tony Goldwyn: Drucker
Michael Rapaport: Hank
Michael Rooker: Marshall
A Phoenix Pictures presentation, released by Columbia Pictures. Director Roger Spottiswoode. Producers Mike Medavoy, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jon Davison. Executive producers Daniel Petrie Jr., David Coatsworth. Screenplay by Cormac Wibberley & Marianne Wibberley. Cinematographer Pierre Mignot. Editors Mark Conte, Dominique Fortin, Michel Arcand. Costume designer Trish Keating. Music Trevor Rabin. Production designers James Bissell, John Willett. Art directors Patrick Banister, Chris Burian-Mohr, Doug Hardwick. Set decorator Peter Lando. Running time: 2 hours, 4 minutes.
In general release.