Neil Young’s Film Lounge – The 6th Day

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

THE 6TH DAY

6/10

US 2000
dir Roger Spottiswoode
scr Cormac & Marianne Wibberley
cin Pierre Mignot
stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tony Goldwyn, Robert Duvall
123 minutes

The 6th Day just about cuts the mustard as a futuristic action thriller – fans of Arnie and/or the genre won’t be disappointed; everyone else may find it watchable, if overlong. Were in Total Recall territory here, but, just as Spottiswoode is no Verhoeven, the Wibberleys fall short of Philip K Dick, whose what-is-human tales are the main inspiration for this topical (i.e. opportunistic) take on supposedly hot cloning issues.

Its the near future – closer than you think, according to the clunky opening titles, and the cloning of humans, while technically possible, is strictly illegal. Not that this stops mega-zillionaire industrialist Michael Drucker (Goldwyn) bankrolling a biotech cloning operation overseen by well-meaning elderly geneticist Griffin Weir (Duvall). Its all very hush-hush, until a series of mishaps results in them accidentally cloning the wrong guy – old-school civilian helicopter pilot Adam Gibson (Schwarzenegger), whose name presumably nods backwards to the Bible and forward to cyberpunk author William Gibson. Arnie proclaims I vond my livebag!!, and the usual kickass chaos ensues.

Its by-the-numbers stuff, not too implausible, not too mindless. Nobody expects fireworks from Spottiswoode, such a safe pair of hands the Bond people trusted him with Tomorrow Never Dies, and he doesn’t get in the way of the slam-bang material, except for an irritating habit of slipping into distorted or disjointed visuals for no discernible reason – youd never guess he edited both Straw Dogs and Karel Reiszs The Gambler. The 6th Day opens with an extraneous, sub-Oliver Stone American Football game, and ends with an equally extraneous ultra-high-speed rewind through the movies key images, but in between the action rocks along at a decent clip throughout, concerned more with flashy visuals than any sort of connection with the actual issues it so cheerfully exploits.

The picture is at least twenty minutes too long, but this still leaves numerous plot holes and loose ends. The cloning process produces exact copies of humans, right down to the exact contours of their minds, memories and characters. But later on the villanous Drucker tells Weir, who’s finally come to his senses, that he’s going to have him cloned, and that the resulting new Weir will be more submissive. How? Soon after, Weir vanishes from the movie altogether, as if the Wibberleys couldnt think of how to use him in their over-extended finale, culminating in one of the Arnies heading off to Patagonia. This development, which feels like the result of the studios nefarious audience-testing process, makes little sense either, especially given the movies inevitable fixation on The Family – whenever Arnies young kid is around, weepy music swells on the soundtrack.

On the plus side, there are some decent who is the clone twists along the way, one pivoting on an apparently innocuous, but in retrospect niftily ambiguous, early conversation with an oily replacement pet shop assistant. And the speediness of the cloning process, which allows Druckers heavies to repeatedly come back from the dead, throws up some nifty ideas and lines, with female agent Talia (energetic Sarah Wynter, who seems to think she’s in a Matrix sequel) complaining that the procedure fails to replicate her expensive hair treatments, though the script somehow resists quoting the infamous Send in the clones! quip from Judge Dredd.

And there is one invention of which Philip K Dick himself would have been proud – Sim-Pal Sindy, a creepy, lifelike, intelligent doll simulacrum bought by Arnie as a gift for his young daughter. It would be going too far to suggest that Sindy (voiced by child actress Andrea Liebman) gives the movies best performance, but she’s by far the funniest, strangest, most intriguing and successfully thought-out thing on display, even though she only gets a few minutes of screen time: she’s wasted, in both senses of the word.

by Neil Young