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Summer of Schwarzenegger - "The 6th Day" (2000)

Arnold Schwarzenegger, time and time again, has proven that he excels in intelligent science fiction. Weird, considering that he's always typified as a brainless action star, but something about high-concept, visually arresting sci-fi movies must appeal to the guy. Otherwise, he probably wouldn't keep being in them, since he has the clout to decide what sorts of flicks he wants to do.

The 6th Day is another one of those, but unlike Terminator, Predator, The Running Man, Terminator 2 and Total Recall, it isn't directed and written by anybody who really knows what the hell they're doing. Instead, we get something that might as well be called My Two Dads 2: Schwarzenegger Boogaloo.
It's not for lack of trying, and I can tell that much. This is a movie that has a concept one might find in a Dick or Asimov story, complete with complex moral quandaries, intriguing twists, and some fairly dynamic characterization. As far as sci-fi goes, it's one of the best, conceptually, I've ever seen.

Notice I said "conceptually." Because, when it comes to execution, The 6th Day just falls all over itself at every possible turn. Why? Well, more on that in a second, but for the moment, I'll leave you with something to think about. This is a movie about the ethical ramifications and potential consequences of human cloning, and imagines a future where such a thing is a hot-button political topic... and it's written by the team who brought you Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Bad Boys II, and both National Treasure movies. Yep.

But what's it about? Arnold is Adam Gibson, a pilot in the future, who has a loving wife (who wants to bang all the time) and a daughter who's sort of annoying and precocious. Adam's a pretty strict anti-cloning kind of guy, which is considered regressive, considering this takes place in a future where the cloning of pets and pretty much any other living thing that isn't human is commonplace. Which isn't to say humans aren't able to be cloned, it's just illegal. Given that this is a fucking movie, though, you can bet your ass that the entire plot is going to be about humans being cloned.

And, as it turns out, Arnold is the one who gets cloned. I know, I know, big shock. See, he takes a routine physical for his piloting, only to come home later to his surprise birthday party and see a clone of himself eating cake, opening presents, and hanging out with his friends. He's then almost killed off by people who want him dead for reasons that aren't ever really explained, and the movie kicks into a rousing rendition of the classic Hollywood trope, "which one's the clone and which one's me?!"

Now, to give credit where credit is due, The 6th Day does a very good job of taking this formula and doing some cool shit with it. I got legitimately confused and surprised at this central tension the more that the whole thing went on. Who's the clone? Who's the real one? Will they work together? Will they fight each other? I kept guessing, and my guesses were totally wrong, and that's always a good feeling to have. I like being surprised, especially when it totally could have been a rote, boring retread of better movies. 

Which is exactly what it is in every other department, actually.

I haven't been this disappointed by a movie in a long time. Not because I was expecting a lot from it, mind you, but because the initial set-up was so intriguing and fun that I really thought it could surprise me. Instead, what we get is about a dozen cool concepts tossed about like a baby throwing its food all over the fucking floor. That is to say, a lot of novel ideas clumsily implemented and regularly sidelined in favor of one of the most cheesily, annoyingly, overbearingly generic 90's thrillers out there. You've got your slanted camera angles, your blue-and-grey color scheme, your disorienting jump cuts, your pumping techno music, and even your shitty grunge, all packed into an excruciating 124 minute runtime. Everything about this movie is dated beyond belief, and can be seen in virtually every other generic Hollywood thriller from that decade. 

Unfortunately, it doesn't end there, because this is one of the most painfully "Arnold" movies of the 90's as well. There are forced one-liners that feel out of place, gonzo action sequences that come out of left field, and a general air of tough-guy machismo that flatout doesn't work. Not only that, but there are two Arnolds, meaning they end up interacting and Jesus fucking Christ, is that ever unbearable. Imagine two of the same stereotypical Arnold roles, in the same movie, cracking one-liners at each other and blowing shit up together. Does this sound like a good idea? Sure, there's a novelty to it, but it wears off after about five seconds. 

Why is this, though? I'll tell you: because the writing team didn't know what the fuck they were doing. It's like they had a ton of great ideas that they decided to put into the framework of a generic 90's thriller, crashed into a generic "Arnold movie," then called it a day. Now, not to be overly rude, but I genuinely think the two writers were in way over their heads here. One look at their other credits shows that they excel in brainless action movies and brainless comedies, not intelligent science-fiction romps. Again: these were the geniuses behind Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, for fuck's sake.

High-concept stuff.
That's why this movie is primarily that: brainless. From a comic relief side-kick to dull shootouts (although the laser guns are fucking awesome) to genuinely awful one-liners ("I just haven't been myself lately,") most of the movie is a bog-standard grab-bag of tropes. The actual cool parts, like the moral questions, the technology behind cloning, all that stuff? All just thrown in at random, meaning that the whole movie lacks a central tone. Is it funny? Exciting? Thought-provoking? Who fucking knows! Here's a one liner and a boner joke! Now listen to some techno music and watch the camera bounce around like a five year-old on three espresso shots! Woo!

In all seriousness, though, The 6th Day isn't Arnold's worst movie... but it is his most disappointing. See, it could have been really smart and challenging, but instead, it settled for being predictable, obnoxious and a smack in the face to its own potential. If any Hollywood film is deserving of a reboot, this is it. Just... don't let any of the original staff near it.

Next Time: I start getting really happy Arnold dropped out of film for almost a decade in Collateral Damage!


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