6 December 2000 | Tom Schulz
Decent sci-fi flick with failed potential
I recently had the pleasure of teaching the wonders of film criticism to an English composition class at Marietta College in Marietta, Ohio. The experience was enjoyable, and the class posed a number of questions. One of the more interesting questions concerned the films I had seen that I believed had potential, but ultimately failed in execution. While I have seen a number of films that fit into this category, I couldn't think of a decent example. This was because I hadn't seen "The 6th Day" yet. What could have been an interesting and exciting look at the evils of cloning was a "B" grade action film at best, despite an above-par script and one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's better roles to date.
The film's premise is heavily based in TRUE science fiction; that is, fiction having its basis in scientific truth, using projections of the future to fully examine some aspect of our society. Sorry to go into such an elaborate definition, but I believe a lot of stuff gets swept into the category of science fiction simply because it has a robot, or takes place in outer space. But I digress.
This fictional reality here deals with cloning. In the film, which takes place in the "near future," cloning is an every-day practice, but only with pets and animals. Cloning people has been outlawed, as the original human cloning project went horribly wrong. Schwarzenegger plays Adam Gibson, a decent family man and helicopter pilot chartered to fly Michael Drucker (Tony Goldwyn), a rich businessman who owns Replacement Technologies. This corporation is at the height of cloning technology, running everything from a fish cloning company to help repopulate the oceans, to "RePet," a company that clones dead family pets. There's even a rumor that the company's head doctor (Robert Duvall) is experimenting with illegal human cloning. Something goes terribly wrong on Drucker's first flight, and before he knows, Gibson discovers he has been cloned. Its up to him to discover the secret controversy, and get his life back.
With this premise, the film is wide open to make many social observations, and does so very well, on occasion. Much of the legalities concerning cloning, as well as the ethical concerns, are discussed and examined by the characters. Even though the technology exists in the future, it is not widely accepted. Some of these observations are stated with all the eloquence you could expect from an Arnold/action film, but others are done so subtly, and surprisingly, with biting humor. Much of the concept of "RePet" is quite amusing.
However, if science fiction is the film's basis, lame action sequences are its filler. In between these intriguing dialogues are shoddy, cookie-cutter action scenes one should expect from a made for TV film. No matter if it's a car chase, a laser gun shoot-out, or a helicopter battle, it all feels very dull. It's not that I'm knocking these things, because they have to appear in action film; I just wish they were done well. Ultimately, the action suffers from a lack of creativity, which ironically, is where the rest of the script excels.
And one can't blame Arnold for not trying, as he is both charming and believable in his part. His is a performance with a surprising level of humanity, especially in scenes where he's going about his daily life. One almost forgets he's an action star and begins to take him a little seriously. But don't worry, after the first half-hour he's picked up a laser gun and is fighting and one-lining his way to the climax.
I guess my one qualm with "The 6th Day" is its failed potential: with some better action sequences (like those found in "The Matrix"), this could have been a very decent film, one I would be sending you to right away. Instead, it's simply a wait-for-video flick, and by my guess, that wait won't be long.