Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Review - The 6th Day

Short review: In a world where cloning is illegal, Adam Gibson has been cloned so there is twice as much Schwarzenegger on screen.

Adam plus Adam
A man and his clone buddy
Set out for vengeance

Full review: In the opening moments of the movie, while ominous music plays in the background, the viewer is informed that because of the mishaps that occurred during the single attempt to create a human clone, all human cloning has been banned by a statute known as the "Sixth Day" law. The "Sixth Day" is, of course, a reference to the Genesis creation story in which man was created on the sixth day of creation, but like so many other elements of this movie, the reference seems inserted for no reason other than providing a moderately cool sounding snippet that is ignored from that point forward.

Most movies in which one actor plays two parts feel somewhat gimmicky, but The 6th Day feels like the movie's producer walked into the screenwriter's office on Friday evening and said "Write me a movie where Schwarzenegger plays two parts, we start filming first thing Monday morning." Then they went out and randomly grabbed actors who were walking by on the street, cast them in roles by random lot, and started filming using props and sets they had lying around the studio and a vintage Cadillac that the director found for sale on eBay. Okay, it's not quite that bad, and there is some decent science fiction action and adventure contained in the movie, but most of that is overshadowed by the really terrible script, comically silly plot, and generally flimsy acting. On the other hand, this is a movie featuring Schwarzenegger in two roles, so none of this should be unexpected.

Right off the bat the viewer know that that movie is about cloning. And with Schwarzenegger in the lead role of Adam, it is pretty much guaranteed that he will be the guy who gets cloned. But first the movie has to show some football, as a star quarterback gets horribly injured on the field before being carried away in an ambulance. The suited team official riding with the comatose quarterback receives an ominous sounding phone call while they ride, directing him to end the quarterback's lifetime contract with the team, at which point the film shifts away.

After the football and murder, the movie shifts to Adam and sets about establishing that Adam is an ordinary guy. An ordinary hulking huge guy. But he's kind of a retro guy too - preferring to use a real razor blade rather than the newfangled future shaving methods of the world he lives in, resulting in a somewhat serendipitous shaving cut on this morning, which also happens to be his birthday. Cementing his ordinary guy bona fides, Adam is worried about whether he has new wrinkles, and almost engages in a little bit of birthday morning sex with his ordinary yet attractive wife (played by Wendy Crewson) before they are interrupted by their ordinary yet adorable daughter. Adam also has an ordinary carpool commute to work with his best friend Hank (played by Michael Rapaport) , and an ordinary job as the co-owner of and helicopter pilot for an excursion business.

Not only does the movie take place on Adam's birthday, it is also a big business day, as Michael Drucker (played by Tony Goldwyn), the multibillionaire owner of the cloning company Replacement Technologies, has hired Adam and Hank to fly him out to an isolated mountain for some snowboarding. Adam and Hank are both given blood tests and eye tests to ensure they are up to piloting for Drucker, and then they head out to ferry some other fun-seekers out to the mountains for some fun in the snow, with Adam using a new remote piloting device to control the team's second helicopter. This leads to a sequence where Adam gives the audience some foreshadowing by challenging Hank to follow his hijinks with the remote helicopter while Hank is flying the piloted helicopter.

Eventually they end up back at their home landing pad and because everything has to happen on this one day, Adam receives some terrible news - Oliver, the family dog, has been diagnosed with an illness and has to be put to sleep because, as his wife says over the video phone "it's the law". She asks him to get a replacement clone dog of Oliver at "RePet", a company that specializes in just such a service, but because Adam is a retro kind of guy, he has misgivings because he distrusts cloning. The real conundrum in the movie is that it expects us to believe that Adam lives in a world in which going to the mall for a cloned dog is possible and economical, and yet healing a sick dog is somehow beyond a veterinarian's capabilities. Hank, who the movie has established as the "modern" counterweight to Adam's "retro" guy, owns a RePet and volunteers to serve as a pilot for Drucker's trip that afternoon even though Drucker had specifically asked for Adam to do the job, so as to allow Adam to go to the mall and check out the local RePet store. As an aside, one has to wonder why a multibillionaire like Drucker needs to charter a helicopter pilot. as we learn later, he has a helipad on the roof of the office building his giant corporation owns. One would think that he would also own a helicopter and a pilot to go with that rooftop helipad. Leaving that aside, Adam agrees, and Hank heads off to fly Drucker to the mountains, telling Drucker that he is Adam to head off the industrialists concerns. Once on the slope, things go wrong, and a new employee named Tripp who had been working for Hank and Adam appears to kill Drucker's security guards and Hank.

Meanwhile, a groggy Adam wakes up in the back of a cab at the mall. Disoriented, he finds his way to NuPet and asks a clerk some questions about cloned pets. Eventually, he decides against cloning Oliver and instead buys his daughter the incredibly creepy SimPal Cindy - a bizarre and seemingly genetically engineered doll that appears to be much more off-putting than something as simple as a cloned dog. But when Adam gets home, expecting to find the quiet of an impending surprise birthday party, he instead finds a party in full swing, with another version of himself in the middle of it. Just as he is about to go in and sort this mystery out, he is stopped by Robert and Talia, who claim to be police investigating a "6th Day" violation. When Adam tries to go into his house anyway, things turn violent and eventually end up with Adam climbing into his vintage Cadillac and leading the two, as well as two more "police" on a wild car chase that turns fatal for two of Adam's pursuers, including Talia.

But the car chase reveals the somewhat slap-dash nature of the movie. Cindy the SimPal plays something of a role in the chase, but this creepy plot element never shows up again. Adam drives around in his vintage Cadillac for the chase, but other than this scene there doesn't seem to be any indication that Adam is a lover of antique cars, and other than having it reported as stolen, the car never matters to the plot again once the chase is over. Even Adam's name, which was clearly chosen by the scriptwriter for its somewhat obviously symbolic significance, never makes any difference in the movie. Time and again, the movie drops some interesting wrinkle into the narrative only to drop it and ignore it for the rest of the movie.

After the chase, we find out that Drucker has been secretly cloning humans with the help of Dr. Griffin Weir (played by Robert Duvall), which really should surprise no one at all. They are busy cloning the two people Adam killed during his escape, who turn out not to be police, but rather security goons hired by Drucker, which also should surprise no one at all. What is surprising is that Drucker has four cold-blooded killers on his payroll, but not a single helicopter pilot, but I digress. At the same time Adam shows up on Hank's doorstep looking for help, and we get a brief look into Hank's life and his somewhat sad "virtual girlfriend". Before too long Hank is killed by Tripp who then dumps some plot exposition on Adam and is then himself killed. Adam manages to escape from Robert and Talia again, cutting off Talia's index finger and using it to start their car in the process.

The movie more or less proceeds in a completely predictable manner after this. Adam breaks in to Replacement Technologies (using Talia's finger to bypass the security systems) and finds Weir, who explains the technology they are using to clone people, including the "syncording device", which allows them to record a person's entire brain through their eyes. And at this point, any remaining semblance of seriousness this movie might have had is simply tossed out the window. While the movie resolutely stays on the topic of cloning, it treats the advance of "syncordings" as a minor byproduct in the process. But anyone who spends more than a couple of seconds thinking about it will realize that the ability to record a human's brain and then play it back is a much more incredible piece of technology. Just the applications for solving crimes would be enormous - simply bring a suspect in, take a syncording, and play it back to see if they committed the crime. Given that taking a syncording of a person takes only a fraction of a second - the "eye test" that Adam and Hank took near the beginning of the film was actually taking their syncording - you could probably get almost anyone to take one, either voluntarily or by deception. Take syncordings of great scientists and build a database of their memories. Take syncordings of your enemies and blackmail them with what they reveal. And so on. You can even syncord dead people (which is how Drucker keeps bringing back his security detail), but wouldn't that technology make murder much easier to convict someone for? Take a syncording of the dead person and see what they saw just before they died. And so on.

But the implications of this technology are entirely ignored by the movie, because if they turned to thoughtfully considering the consequences of what they introduced, there would be less time for shooting and explosions. So Drucker kidnaps Adam's wife and daughter, and Adam and clone Adam team up to get them back, although they disagree on which one of them is clone Adam. Events move relentlessly and predictably forward from that point on. Weir displays amazing naivete. Drucker proves time and again that he is even more evil than one thought. Talia reveals that four is "more times than she could count". And Adam and clone Adam show themselves to be so bad ass that they are able to take on almost endless numbers of security guards.

Everything builds to a completely paint by numbers climax, and then Adam and clone Adam reconcile (Drucker having conveniently given them a way to determine which one is clone Adam). Clone Adam is shipped off to Argentina, but not before he muses whether he has a soul or not. And once again, the movie seems to have latched on to the most trivial possible aspect of the issues that it has raised. Through the movie we learned that multiple people were killed and then cloned with their memories placed in their new body via a syncording. Everyone treats the new person as being the same as the now dead person, but it seems like someone would wonder if that were actually true. The much referred to 6th Day laws appear to assume that the cloned person is not the same person as the dead person. Even more oddly, the people who are killed then cloned seem to regard getting killed as no big deal. But the only thing that is happening when someone is being cloned is that a new version of them is coming back, while the old version is still dead. Wouldn't the current you be rather upset at the idea that they will die, even if a completely different version of you infused with your memories might come back? As it would get in the way of having more scenes dedicated to blowing up Replacement Technologies, the movie doesn't even bother to contemplate these sorts of issues, and ends up being nothing more than a generic action movie with a thin coating of bad science fiction.

The 6th Day is is not a a completely horrible movie. This is not to say that it is a good film. It is a mediocre Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, which in the larger world of movies makes it a moderately bad movie. The movie is not so bad that it is in danger of becoming good again. It resides comfortably in the trough of mediocrity at the point where you don't feel cheated after having watched it all the way through, but unless you really like Arnold, there's not much reason to watch it again.

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  1. Oh for crying out loud! No wonder I never watched this film!

    1. @Julia Rachel Barrett: It's really a pretty bad film. I could have written an entirely different review criticizing entirely different aspects of the story and come to the same conclusion.