THE 6TH DAY
It's been more than a little bit sad watching Arnold Schwarzenegger turn into an object of fond nostalgic reminiscence. Nobody's kidding anybody here -- the big guy has always been an iconic presence first, last and always. Back in the '80s and early '90s, however, that presence was put to effective use in guilty action pleasures (Commando, Predator) and genuine action pleasures (the Terminator films, Total Recall). What does he have to show for most of the last decade? The Last Action Hero, Batman & Robin, Jingle All the Way and End of Days. Going to an "Ah-nuld" movie became a desperate grab at what he used to be: American cinema's one true super-hero.
There's no point going overboard with praise for The 6th Day, a solid action thriller and little more. It is, however, a pleasure to watch Schwarzenegger in action without cringing in embarrassment. He plays Adam Gibson, a charter pilot in a near-future America where genetic manipulation is rampant but human cloning is illegal. Gibson heads home from work one day to find himself already with his family -- presumed dead after his business partner (Michael Rappaport) takes his assignment one day, he has been replaced by a clone. When those responsible, including billionaire Michael Drucker (Tony Goldwyn) discover the overlapping Gibsons, it becomes necessary to erase one of them. That leaves Gibson running for his life from apparently immortal assassins and trying to figure out how he can get his life and family back.
The title of The 6th Day refers to the Genesis verse about the creation of man, and the film as a whole fiddles around with questions of bio-ethics and playing God. Surprisingly, it does so in a manner that's both moderately intelligent and fairly clever. The script by Cormac and Marianne Wibberley has fun with near-future developments like genetically-engineered life-size dolls (with creepy, Chuckie-like features), cloned versions of deceased pets (the wonderfully named RePet) and virtual girlfriends, while still addressing the legitimate issues involved in human cloning. The pseudo-science that advances the plot is far from consistent -- the cloned assassins somehow remember their deaths even though their memories hadn't been "backed up" to that point -- but it rarely proves intrusive enough to sabotage the whole package.
One of the reasons it's easier to enjoy that package is that it's so simple to unwrap. Too many action films ignore the genre's basic rules for success: create a likeable enough protagonist; give him worth adversaries; pump up the energy for the set pieces; and don't over-think things. There's nothing spectacular about any of the action sequences in The 6th Day, but spectacle isn't the real selling point here. Roger Spottiswoode is a competent enough action director who finds just the right pacing for his key moments. He does tend to over-direct the expository segments, reducing even the most basic domestic moments to snippets of film, and proves overly fond of jittery, distorted point-of-view shots for characters' memories. Fortunately, he finds the right pace when it counts, and avoids action overkill. The result is a film that keeps moving without feeling as though it's dragging you along or assaulting your senses.
It's also simply enjoyable seeing Schwarzenegger return to form. He has always shown a great sense of humor about his screen image (beyond the trademark quips, even), and he gets a few opportunities here to indulge his lighter side. He also avoids over-indulging that lighter side, so that decidedly un-whimsical pillow fights between Gibson and his wife (Wendy Crewson) don't inspire a gag reflex. The 6th Day finds Arnold armed with a few one-liners, but he's not over-indulged there either. In fact, there's a refreshing quality of "just enough" to most of the film. There's a pointless explosion here or a bi
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