[Originally written for Seattle Post-Intelligencer]
Arnold Schwarzenegger fans were perplexed by End of Days, the dreary, hysterical millennial thriller that marked his comeback from a two-year break. Hollywood’s favorite action hero was reduced to a cynical, burned-out husk of an alcoholic cop on a vaguely redemptive quest. Where was the wiseacre tough guy of few words and explosive action? Where was the beloved teddy bear of a Hollywood Hercules with a destructive streak? Where was Ah-nold?
He’s back in The 6th Day, an adrenaline powered sci-fi thriller set in “the near future: closer than you think.” Sure he’s a doting family man and blue-collar entrepreneur made good at first, genial if clumsy in domestic scenes whose stiffness only melts when the script lets him get playful.
This nine-to-fiver soon trades in his paternal duties to play the wisecracking superhero. Adam (now there’s a loaded name) comes home to his surprise birthday party only to discover he’s already blowing out the candles! Due to a conspiratorial snafu, there’s two Adams running around and one of them is a clone, perfectly reproduced right down to his memories. Now there’s an identity crisis!
Since cloning humans is illegal, he’s inconvenient evidence, on the run from a quartet of colorful killers sent by oily corporate sleaze Tony Goldwyn, a CEO with a (literal) God complex. Just to up the ante, a fanatical anti-cloning religious fundamentalist assassin joins the merry chase.
Adam rises to the occasion, spitting out pithy one-liners and taking to mayhem with an unnervingly bloodthirsty passion. He gleefully grins while driving over a gunman with his 1950 Caddy and nonchalantly snaps the same thug’s neck a few seconds later with a sardonic quip: “Try to stay dead this time!” Is this the same gentle dad and nuzzling husband of the first scenes?
It’s hard to tell if director Roger Spottiswoode (Tomorrow Never Dies) works in this merciless turn by design or simply out of deference to Arnold’s screen history. He’s a thoroughly professional cinematic mechanic, executing action scenes with verve and flash and driving the picture with enough momentum to leap the logical gaps (which, to be fair, are few).
The script reverberates with the dark future-shock themes Philip K. Dick explored in Blade Runner and Total Recall, bandying about issues of identity and immortality and technological morality while Spottiswoode tosses futuristic gadgetry around the edges with tongue-in-cheek satire (love that creepy android Cabbage Patch Doll from Hell).
The 6th Day never rises to the promise of this undercurrent, but then who expected it to? Spottiswoode and Schwarzenegger deliver a clever and colorful conspiratorial thriller with high-energy action scenes, car crashes a go-go, spectacular technology, and big explosions, packaged up with ferocious glee and spoofing humor. Who could ask for more from Ah-nold?