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Wait a second. How do I know he’s not you, and you’re not him?

The 6th Day
(2000)

(SPOILERS) Arnie’s pre-penultimate pre-governator starring role, and perhaps surprisingly, given he’d been making bad or lazy choices for the best part of a decade, The 6th Day’s probably his best material since Total Recall. What it isn’t, however is a production with any sense of vision or attitude, which comes down to journeyman-at-best, director of Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot at worst, director Roger Spottiswoode calling the shots.

That in itself is evidence enough of how Arnie’s stock – or again, decision-making skill – had tumbled since the early ’90s. Perhaps his people were persuaded by the success of Tomorrow Never Dies (which admittedly, I have a soft spot for), but he’d gone from regular gigs with the likes of James Cameron, John McTiernan and Paul Verhoeven to Chuck Russell, Joel Schumacher, Peter Hyams and Brian Levant, second-tier types at best (and I’m a Hyams fan). He’d also had that heart valve surgery, and there was a sense he was running on movie fumes, that he’d done what he needed to do; that he couldn’t see through more promising-sounding projects – Oliver Stone’s Planet of the Apes, Ridley Scott’s I Am Legend, Verhoeven’s Crusade – only served to emphasise this. Like Stallone, he’d slipped to the status of second-tier star. None of the movies of the second half of the decade were in the same league as those in the first, but they were costing just as much money (it got no better after this either, with Andrew Davis and Jonathan Mostow stepping forward).

Schwarzenegger was also taking on faintly desperate no-brainer projects. A Batman villain. A Christmas comedy. A millennial-angst actioner. They weren’t good, and they were stuff of someone confused as to which way to head. But The 6th Day seemed to be in the ballpark of smart sci-fi that had really broken him out as a box-office champ (The Terminator, Predator, Total Recall). I don’t know at what point he attached himself, as there’s one report Kevin Costner was starring but had to pass due to a scheduling conflict, but it sounds rather like he was picking through others’ scraps for that elusive hit.

Joe Dante was attached for a spell, and Nil Baskar and Gabe Klinger’s book on the director suggests he “can’t quite get his head round… Arnold as everyman… and decides to pass”. He had a bit more to say in the Trailers from Hell podcast, and by the sound of it was attached for some months; he talked producer Mike Medavoy into hiring the inimitable Larry Cohen to rewrite the screenplay, but Cohen “completely threw out the entire script and wrote a new script with new premise”. So that wasn’t going to work. Dante went looking for another writer, “And oddly enough, the next person I went to was John Sayles, who did exactly the same thing”. Dante then draws a line under the whole experience with “So as you can imagine, I didn’t end up making that picture”.

Arnie had presumably seen a Dante movie, so you wonder quite what he envisioned. Let’s face it, Dante would have been the ideal director for Last Action Hero, and rewatching The 6th Day, it’s clear there’s a lot of humour in there that doesn’t quite land because Spottiswoode is so workmanlike; you can see the potential, with the repeated deaths, resurrections and doubles. Plus, Dante might have blanched at the Arnie role – he’s notably written into the screenplay as having fought in “the Rainforest Wars” almost as an afterthought, and certainly after the point where he’s killed a load of people and it’s nagging at you why a guy who runs a charter helicopter company is so handy, or is that deadly – but he might have been the ideal helmer to play further with his image. After all, for a star so limited in range, it’s remarkable – or shrewd – that Arnie managed to mix it up so much. Sword-and-sorcery Arnie becomes sci-fi-killer-robot Arnie becomes comedy-sensation Arnie and so on. By the time he made Last Action Hero, he probably saw, not unreasonably, that the next natural step would be diving down the Hellzapoppin’ self-referential rabbit hole. But that was the step too far, it seemed.

We’d already had a series of plays on duality with both Jack Slater and Arnold Schwarzenegger in that movie (a bit-of-a-shit Arnold Schwarzenegger at that). He went from bad Terminator to reprogrammed good one (mixing up expectations, yes, but also something of a star-power cop out, IMHO). And as Douglas Quaid, he discovered he wasn’t a very nice super-secret spy… Or was he on the couch all along? The 6th Day was as cerebrally high-concept as that movie in essence, and maybe, if Dante or Verhoeven had made it – it would certainly have been better than Verhoeven’s Hollow Man, released the same year – it might have been a late-period classic.

As it is, The 6th Day finished up just another cloning movie in a market place that has been awash with them in the last quarter-century (Multiplicity, Alien Resurrection, Star Trek: Nemesis, Attack of the Clones, Code 46, Aeon Flux, The Island, The Prestige, Moon, Never Let Me Go, Cloud Atlas, Oblivion, Gemini Man, Us to name but a few). Some of these have been very good, but some of the bigger ones – The Island, Gemini Man – haven’t been especially smart. You couldn’t say that of The 6th Day, even if writers Cormac and Marianne Wibberly – Cormac being the son of Leonard, who created the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, seen on screen in The Mouse That Roared and The Mouse on the Moon – have their names on otherwise resolutely unimpressive material (in tandem with other screenwriters).

The science of cloning remains an elusive one, like much of modern wizardry when we try getting down to the brass tacks of truth, rather than what we’re told is the truth. We all know about Dolly the Sheep, and conspiracy lore has it that there are underground cloning facilities (Donald Campbell) or that half the celebs/politicians out there have clones, with various and variable photographic evidence to support this claim. Others would say the same evidence supports only that there are deep fakes, doubles, efficient mask software and MKUltra’d famous people whose programming has broken down in public.

I’m open to most of these explanations (though I’m dubious about Campbell’s celebrity-droned flight club), including that the whole thing of cloning is one big ruse, like the Moon landings, along with the idea that this has been going on for millennia, including those who created humanity in the first place (The 6th Day invokes this somewhat with its Genesis quote designed to indicate man has become God now). One thing is certain, though, and that’s Hollywood being very keen to push the concept. The idea that there may be copies of ourselves marching around. More still, that those copies marching around could be as existentially invested as we are. Why, we could be the clones and not even know it.

Both The Island and The 6th Day make a thing of this element, the latter being especially at pains to emphasise there is no difference between a man and his copy. Forget Arnie’s Teutonic fretting about the existence of the soul. The picture rehearses objections to cloning, including anti-cloning demonstrators – something Never Let Me Go, with its walking-talking spare parts donors, left conspicuously absent – and trots out oozing villain Tony Goldwyn – a decade on from his most famous oozing villain – objecting to luddites like Arnie (“What about God?” our hero asks. Drucker’s response: “Oh, you’re one of those. I suppose you think science is inherently evil”).

But there’s an underlying vibe here that, despite The 6th Day law banning human cloning, because of “that experiment they did”, none of this is really quite as horrific as we expect. The first step on the slippery slope of cloning pets is old hat (“All the kids today, they grew up with Repet”), and the voiced legal objection is scientific rather than moral (“Because the human brain is much too complicated to synch-chord”). We know that cloning has replenished the oceans of fish. In most respects, it appears to be a massive boon.

The most obvious objection comes from the wife of Dr Weir (Robert Duvall). Katherine (Wanda Cannon) has been brought back but is now dying and wants to stay dead (“Catherine died five years ago. The feelings that I have aren’t mine. They’re hers. I want to die. My time has already passed”). This is not presented as some moral imperative, however. Catherine is simply the victim of the same process all human clones suffer; the illness presents leverage against speaking out, in order to guarantee another body later. One of the paid assassins (Rodney Rowland) takes this further, opining that he hasn’t seen any of the things one expects when one dies (“a white light. Seen any angels”). Even Arnie’s Adam – of course – Gibson, who is unconvinced by cloning pets, let alone people, offers a put down to protestors claiming God objects to cloning (“Then God shouldn’t have killed my dog”).

At the other extreme, we have Drucker’s deformed clone demanding his mortally wounded predecessor’s clothes before he is dead. In between the two poles, we see the assassins putting on a new body with the resignation of sending a suit to the cleaners (with the exception of Rowland, complaining of difficulty breathing from his last death despite having “a totally new chest now”). And then there are Adam and Adam discuss their existential qualifications at the conclusion: “Am I really human? Do I have a soul?

Original Adam assures his clone that the science tests came back with zero defects (he wasn’t fixed by Drucker): “Well, if you’re not human don’t you think they would have noticed it?” Which entirely ducks the question. Indeed, the movie – like The Island – implicitly endorses the existence of the clone, which is as autonomous and every bit as real and “ensouled” (or perhaps, more to the point, every bit as lacking a soul) as your average human. So it is that Adam 2 is allowed to live (like Mengele, he moves to Argentina). It’s possible this was Arnie concerned audiences didn’t like him dying in End of Days (“Next time, I will be twice as alive at the end!”). If so, it failed to help the box office any.

It’s notable that the “He’s not the clone. You are” twist lacks the impact of Total Recall’s mindfuck while striving for something similar At least in part, this is down to the entirely unremarkable execution on Spottiswoode’s part. As a director, he inserts a number of annoying stylistic ticks, including importune flashbacks, to add emotional weight and woozy camera effects to suggest defective POV.

Mostly, though, it’s the lack of urgency that bothers, making you aware a movie that should be zipping along is less than light on its feet. There are occasionally very good scenes; the visit to Repet (very Rekall) has a future-tech zest and irreverence (Adam expresses concern about the dog being large and dangerous and is told it can be made smaller if he’d like, with softer teeth: “we can even colour coordinate him to match your decorating scheme”). A sequence in which he and perpetual doofus sidekick Michael Rappaport return to his home while avoiding his “clone” and encounter assassins Michael Rooker, Sarah Wynter and Rodney Rowland at the door also manages the verve of urgent farce.

You can see how much wittier this could have felt throughout, though. There’s the Greta Thunberg-like Cindy Doll (“I have a boo boo”). She’s in the lineage of Johnny Cab and is similarly dispensed with when she annoys someone that bit too much. At the police station, a virtual psychiatrist is loaded up (“Imagine, two turtles are walking through the desert”). On seeing his clone at home – albeit, actually the real Adam – Adam disparages that “He’s even a shitty carpenter”. There’s a running gag about smoking being illegal (“You know what tobacco does to people”; “This is because of the cigars, isn’t it?” asks wife Natalie – Wendy Crewson – when Adam rescues her from Drucker’s men). Even the classic Arnie cheesy quip has some thought behind it (telling Drucker he should clone himself while he’s still alive “So you can go fuck yourself”, but the side is then let resoundingly down when Drucker’s clone falls on top of himself and Arnie quips “I didn’t mean it literally”).

In terms of looser predictive programming, there’s also the future prerequisite of the deadly virus. Albeit, this time it’s an “infectious canine virus”, so infectious there are draconian measures whereby “… they had to put him down and apparently, it’s the law”, even though the “virus is harmless to humans” (evidently, there’s no hopping the species barrier with this particular fictional virus). While the movie is big on near-future tech – it’s set in 2015 – of the sort that doesn’t usually travel well, most of this avoids overdoing anything too badly. Some big screen TVs and Strange Days/Blade Runner 2049 style virtual-reality sex stuff (for Rappaport, natch), some nifty remote-controlled helicopters, and a surprisingly subtle marker of clone model (a cold sore-looking spot on the lower lip). Sara Wynter has very colourful future hair (she’s much more fun here than in 24).

Indeed, the cast are generally good value. The 6th Day should definitely have landed better than it did. You can put its failure partly down to Arnie fatigue. Unlike Collateral Damage and T3, neither of which were much on paper, it’s safe to say The 6th Day deserved a more skilful landing. It’s a watchable actioner with a brain in its head, but it had the potential of something more memorable.


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