Montreal Film Journal


Oh, Arnold, you! I have to admit, when I review the big guy's movies, I'm hardly objective. I'm almost homo in my love of his screen persona. Regular visitors of this site know, for instance, that my very favorite movie just happens to be "Commando", the movie I feel showcases the Schwarzenegger attitude the best. I also have much love for "Predator", "Total Recall" and the "Terminator" movies, but that's no biggie; Arnold did star in some of the very best sci-fi flicks of the last two decades. What really puts me in the fanboy zone is how I also gleefully enjoy even his lesser films, including his comedies. And, Lord forgive me, I thought he was kinda cool (no pun intended) as Mr. Freeze in "Batman & Robin".

I can't help it. I love the bodybuilder body, I love the square jaw, I love the menacing stare, I love the cigars, I love the cheesy one-liners, I love the Austrian accent, I love the way Schwarzenegger defies logic and does all those impossible things. I love the whole package and when I go see one of his pictures, I always have a blast, no matter how uneven his recent movies have been. Hence, I was sure to have a lot of fun watching his latest, "The 6th Day", even though I expected it to be pretty lame overall. Well, surprise surprise, it's anything but. In fact, it's a superior science-fiction flick that succeeds at being both smart and entertaining. Set in the near future, it's populated by a bunch of nifty gizmos, from creepy SimPal lifelike dolls, virtual girlfriends, self-driving cars and ray guns that make the Imperial Guards' phasers look obsolete.

More precisely, the film centers on the all too actual issue of human cloning. In this alternate universe, animal cloning has become commonplace, with a RePet store in every mall where you can have a dead pet cloned back to life. Human cloning, on the other hand, has been strictly banned by authorities. But what's the law for an ultra powerful billionaire like Michael Drucker (Tony Goldwyn)? The technology is here, as perfected by a scientist on his payroll (Robert Duvall), and Drucker knows there's money to be made. All he needs is to discreetly pull strings in the Senate to have them change the laws. Meanwhile, he uses his top secret cloning facilities to guarantee himself and collaborators immortality; for instance, when the star quarterback of the football team he owns suffers brutal injury on the field that turns him into a vegetable, Drucker has the plug pulled and replaces him with a fresh, healthy clone.

Small critical parenthesis here. Maybe you're wondering how cloning is explained in the film. Well, they've got "blanks" of fleshy human forms cooking up around the clock, and when they need somebody cloned, they just put the person's DNA into the system to sculpt the blank likewise. Then they give it back all of his memories, which they get by recording the deceased's mind on a CD through an optical scan. OK, this doesn't make much sense, but with just a little suspension of disbelief, the holes in logic won't bother you. In any case, this movie is much less stupid than it could have been. I like that they don't make Drucker into an outrageous super evil villain. He's just Bill Gates or Rupert Murdoch missing some ethics; he's the ultimate unscrupulous business man. I also like that Duvall's scientist doesn't feel like a non-character tacked on to do some exposition. They give him some complexity, he's no mad doctor. Like Einstein worked on atom science with no intent to create the nuclear bomb, Duvall's working on cloning for none of the bad reasons. It's also interesting how his own wife is dying but accepting her fate, which puts him in a moral dilemma: follow her wish and let her go, or selfishly have her cloned so he won't be alone?

Enter Adam Gibson, Schwarzenegger's character, a charter helicopter pilot who takes clients up mountains to ski and snowboard. He's a happy man, with a beautiful wife, an adorable daughter and a nice dog. As we meet him, he's going to work with his best friend (Michael Rapaport, good though still far behind the most enjoyable Ah-nuld sidekick ever, Tom Arnold), and what do you know, they've been hired to fly... That's right, Drucker! But through a twist of fate, Adam squirms out of the job, which is good since upon landing atop a mountain, the chopper is attacked by radical anti-cloning protesters who kill all of them. Yet what might have been a blessing turns out to be just the opposite. When they learn of the boss's death, his minions have him cloned, and to avoid making it suspicious, they also make clones of the other people that were in the helicopter, including the two pilots, to make it as if there had been no attack at all. Of course, when they finally get to the corpses, they realize (too late) that Gibson wasn't even on the flight, and now they must tie loose ends, and that means sending hit-men to kill one of the Adams...

"The 6th Day" not only has an interesting premise, it's also well developed into a clever, exciting sci-fi thriller. Some of it is even thought-provoking, which is rather rare for a Schwarzenegger movie ! The picture also benefits from dynamic direction from Roger Spottiswoode, who crafts it into a massive and impressive flick, with fast pacing, cool FX and CGI, kinetic editing, an effective score, lotsa things blowing up, car chases, ray guns shoot-outs and whacked mayhem with the futuristic choppers. Arnold himself is in top form. Is it just me or he's getting better an better an actor lately? I found him convincing as a family man early in the film, and later on, I also bought his confusion and anguish. And when he starts kicking ass, he's just perfect, of course, especially since we get two Arnolds for the price of one!

Lately, Schwarzenegger seems to be evolving into Charlton Heston type characters, not quite as physical as those he once portrayed, but more laid back and three-dimensional. Also, the movies seem to be less of vehicles revolving around him doing his thing but more complex stories in which he's only the protagonist. Don't worry though, he's still a badass, and he still has a couple of one-liners to spare. When he leaves a RePet store, unconvinced: "I might be back." After killing the clone of one of his earlier victims: "Now stay dead this time!" Or to Drucker : "Why don't you make you a clone and go fuck yourself?"!

All in all, "The 6th Day" (the title is a biblical reference, by the way, "...and on the sixth day, God created man in His image...) is a very satisfying movie-going experience, and this time I'm not saying that just because I'm a fan of the big guy. Even if you're not usually a fan of his work, you will enjoy this one. It's much better than you'd think.