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Genre Splicing Goes Awry

By Dan Via
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, November 17, 2000


    'The 6th Day' Ah-nuld gets duplicated in "The 6th Day."
(Columbia Tristar Pictures)
Robert Duvall in an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie about human cloning? Surely this most intelligent of actors did it only for the money, perhaps hoping to finance another small-scale indie gem like "The Apostle." Or, could it be that he simply found "The 6th Day," well, kind of interesting?

"The 6th Day" is kind of interesting. And that's ultimately why it doesn't work. Cormac and Marianne Wibberley's script conscientiously raises all the salient moral and ethical questions and offers soundbite summaries of the pros and cons. It then proceeds to demonstrate without undue subtlety that human cloning is very very wrong and its advocates are very very bad, deserving to get various limbs broken and/or blown off. Let's not forget who the real star is here, after all.

Schwarzenegger is Adam Gibson, devoted family man, ace helicopter pilot and owner of an extreme adventure outfitting business. When his daughter's beloved pooch buys the farm, Gibson finds himself in a dilemma: Does he haul Fido's carcass to the "RePet" outlet in the local mall and take advantage of now-commonplace animal cloning technology? Or does he risk breaking the little girl's heart by sticking to his antiquated notion of God's will?

A man of principle, Gibson decides that a dead dog is best dealt with the old-fashioned way: with a few tears and a solemn doggie burial in the back yard. Yet, within a few short hours, both dog and owner will be genetically copied. The former is regenerated at the behest of Gibson's wife (Wendy Crewson), who knows her man won't do it. The latter is replicated as the result of a mix-up at the hands of RePet's sinister CEO, Michael Drucker (Tony Goldwyn), and his chief scientist,Graham Weir (Duvall).

Drucker, secretly trafficking in human cloning despite a ban imposed by the so-called "6th Day Law" (a reference to the creation of man as told in Genesis), is the target of an assassination attempt while on one of Gibson's adventures. Their pilot is killed so Weir, fearful of the unwanted scrutiny accompanying any investigation, clones a replacement Gibson from genetic material and memory data retrieved during a faux physical. Too bad the dead pilot was actually Gibson's buddy, Hank (Michael Rapaport). Now there are two Gibsons wandering about. And, if the clone is discovered, Drucker and Weir's secret will be out.

The rest of the movie follows Gibson's efforts to avoid getting iced by Drucker's henchmen and to reclaim his life from the usurping clone. By now, the Schwarzenegger action formula is pretty well established: A little sci-fi, a lot of weaponry and a few painfully marble-mouthed witticisms lobbed at freshly vanquished bad guys. "The 6th Day" features all of the above plus timely philosophical issues and honest-to-god tasteful acting from Goldwyn, Duvall and Wanda Cannon as Weir's dying wife. An even greater surprise: Michael Rapaport is actually appealing as the stock likable lout best friend.

These extras may lend a tonier-than-expected sheen to the proceedings, but they also undercut the excitement – the standard by which this kind of film is judged. Schwarzenegger's "Eraser" was flat-out dumb, but it was also a hoot. Within that film's cartoony context, the over-the-top chases, amplified violence and cheap one-liners were almost thrilling. In the classier "6th Day," these same elements cause discomfort. Moreover, director Roger Spottiswoode seems unable to squeeze sufficient juice out of his set pieces. The intense three-minute preview for the upcoming mountaineering thriller "Vertical Limit" got more of a reaction from the audience than anything in the main attraction.

Schwarzenegger and company should be commended for trying to avoid making yet another action-movie clone. (Sorry.) However, "The 6th Day" is neither smart nor exciting enough to justify the effort. It just goes to prove that, in genre filmmaking, it doesn't always pay to mess with the basic DNA.

"The Sixth Day" (PG-13, 124 minutes)– Contains profanity, graphic violence and brief nudity.


Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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