This was going to be called The Sixth Day, but they thought people would confuse it with The Sixth Sense (1999). How likely is that? Personally though I've spent ten years confusing it with End of Days (1999), which of course also starred Arnold Schwarzenegger. I thus assumed I was about to watch a millennialist Book of Revelation with Arnie vs. the Devil, whereas in fact it's a third-rate Total Recall.
The film's main problem, frankly, is Arnie. I love the guy, but he and this movie don't fit each other at all. Kevin Costner turned down the lead role before it eventually went to Schwarzenegger, to give you an idea of how naturally he fits into it. As an Arnie movie, it sucks. Arnie's playing a loving father and family man who happens to be built like a tree and occasionally gets involved in some rather uninvolving action. Spottiswoode's last film before this had been a Pierce Brosnan 007 (Tomorrow Never Dies), but that doesn't mean there's any real adrenaline here. There's a bit of violence, I suppose. Nothing that says Schwarzenegger. He snaps someone's neck with his bare hands and seems to enjoy running over a bad guy, but those moments actually jarred because they don't fit with the character as we've otherwise seen him. He's just a pilot. He's not an ex-marine or a super-commando.
In fairness, maybe he is, technically. There's a line late in the film about his "war wound". Nevertheless this is a fairly unremarkable SF action-ish film that happens to have Arnold Schwarzenegger in it, rather than a proud heir to the ludicrousness of Predator, Commando, etc.
So the film isn't serving Arnie. In return, he certainly isn't serving the film. Wow, he really isn't an actor, is he? I was a bit shocked. I've always been fond of the guy, but here he's almost embarrassing to watch, like your retarded brother in the school nativity play. I'll defend him in the likes of Conan
and The Terminator
, but here he's dealing with existential crises, love for his family and all kinds of other things that he can't portray. He just does his grinning grimace thing and so will you.
The film itself is asking for trouble by begging comparisons with Paul Verhoeven. Had it just been a little bit better, it would have been the ultimate double feature with Total Recall. It's not actually taken from Philip K. Dick, but it might as well have been. It's the near future (2015 according to the DVD commentary) and clone technology is on the rampage. If your family dog dies, just take it to RePet and your child will never know the difference! SimPals are all the rage among children, despite the fact that they've clearly walked off a horror movie and are creepier than Chucky. Human cloning is illegal, mind you. It was banned under "6th Day" laws, as per the day on which God created man. Nevertheless you just know that there's going to be all kinds of clone fun and sure enough Arnie's soon up to his neck in corporate double-dealing, an infinitely regenerating squad of assassins and existentialist issues going beyond even what we saw in Total Recall.
This is interesting, but confused. On the one hand, it's tapping into all kinds of Luddite populist nonsense (e.g. GM technology and "Franken-foods") and the clone-makers are the villains. Every so often Arnie will say he's proud to be old-fashioned or someone will reject the offer of cloned immortality, saying "I just want to die", and I was sitting there asking "why?" It feels under-motivated. It was as if the script had assumed I'd be anti-cloning and there wouldn't be any need to back up the arguments of those who were bashing it. Nope, sorry. They're the good guys and we're clearly meant to be sympathising with them, but intellectually they're spouting hot air.
However to be fair, the film does end with Arnie becoming more sympathetic towards cloning, while they also do a pretty good job of portraying some of the practical dangers that might arise from the technology becoming commercially available. Life's cheaper, for a start. This is obviously most startling when it comes to humans, but I was struck by one early incident in which Arnie's daughter's dog gets put down at the vet because it has an infectious disease that's not even communicable to humans. Apparently it's the law. It doesn't matter so much if you can just clone the dog, does it? And if someone realises it's simpler just to buy another one instead... well, it was only a dog. Then there are the tweaks an unscrupulous corporation might secretly build into its products, which is a concept we're all familiar with but considerably more disturbing when the "product" is you.
I can't say I completely buy it, though. I like the irony that the whole plot is effectively caused by silly legal prohibitions, but it does beg the question of why the villains don't just move their production and research facilities to some third world country with more pragmatic lawmakers. The economics also didn't convince me. Would you really pay $1.2 million for a resurrected assassin when you could just hire another one?
The film's vision of the future is fun, though, with a good level of society-changing gimmicks (thumb-prints instead of credit cards, etc.) and a creepy undertone. You can have sex with your computer-generated girlfriend, but she won't know or care when you're in trouble. "Is Hank sleeping on the floor again? That's so cute!"
These are promising ingredients, but someone wanted to make some decisions. If you're going to aim for an intelligent SF thriller, be intelligent! Don't fall back on being so conservative and two-faced that you can actually have Arnold Schwarzenegger saying, "My daughter's inside. I don't want her exposed to any graphic violence; she gets enough from the media." If they'd allowed this film a brain, maybe they could have made another Minority Report
. However if they'd been aiming for a 1980s Arnie movie, the minimum requirements would have been to: (a) establish immediately that Arnold is a trained killer on a hair-trigger, (b) drench the movie in blood, and (c) make the villains less boring.
The movie's worst acting isn't even from Arnie, by the way. There's a scene where his daughter (Taylor Anne Reid) is cornered by dangerous dogs and they clearly weren't shooting with the dogs and the girl together on set. Reid looks bored.
I've been hard on this, but it's by no means worthless. I quite liked it. I just thought it wasn't anywhere near as good and memorable as it could have been. Nevertheless its SF near-future is fun and its ideas are real and meaty, even if I'd have liked them to be more fully thought through. There's also a slice of class in the form of Robert Duvall, also seen in Apocalypse Now, The Eagle Has Landed, The Godfather (Parts I and II) and To Kill a Mockingbird. However Spottiswoode is bad at shooting action, while the film is downright boneheaded in how it's using its headline star. I'm fond of Arnie and I love his films, but this is a terrible showcase for him. Schwarzenegger is being expected to act instead of merely take his shirt off and kill entire armies with his bare hands. Whoops.
It's just not over-the-top enough. The nudity isn't real nudity. The ideas aren't pushed to extremes, so the immortal assassins feel neither undead nor unstoppable and you never get a rampaging army of brainwashed evil Schwarzeneggers. This movie desperately needed a bit of Paul Verhoeven, or even maybe a Russell T. Davies. It's okay, but it's pallid.