In The 6th Day, Arnold Schwarzenegger returns to Total Recall territory as an average, if hulking, Joe caught in a technological conspiracy that forces his character to ask such searching questions as ”Who am I?“ while killing people left and right and blowing shit up. Lacking the far-out inventiveness of Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall, however, the result here — as directed by Roger Spottiswoode and written by first-timers Marianne and Cormac Wibberley — is as botched a splice job of ”big issue,“ in this case human cloning, and action-thriller formula as you can imagine. Whole sequences — such as a jet-copter race through mountain canyons — hang like dull appendages off the story, while the Wibberleys‘ script fails to convey even a modicum of conviction in its own paranoia. What makes this otherwise forgettable film such a disturbing experience is that it reveals how lacking in self-awareness Hollywood can be, even when reaching for it.

The 6th Day opens with a recap of recent genetic landmarks — from Dolly the sheep to the Human Genome Project — before sliding into fiction with the titles ”Set in the near future . . . Sooner than you think.“ This is the first in a series of winks at the audience as the film whisks us through a wonderland of imagined gizmos, from self-driving cars to holographic virtual porn. Human cloning has been banned, but the intrusion of technology into every facet of daily life continues apace. Who wouldn’t want his bathroom mirror to wish him a happy birthday?

When first we see Adam Gibson (Schwarzenegger) — a war veteran who now copters snowboarders to remote ski areas — he‘s checking for wrinkles in said mirror. That the actor pulls off this moment of domestic vulnerability with such self-deprecating charm only makes what follows more of a waste. In due course, hearth and home are threatened from without: Gibson returns from work to see himself blowing out the candles on his birthday cake. The action begins when a team of corporate hired guns, led by Michael Rooker, shows up to dispatch Gibson in an effort to cover up an illegal human-cloning operation run by an evil billionaire (Tony Goldwyn) and a well-meaning genetic scientist, played by an unbilled Robert Duvall, sorely out of place as he tries to express some genuine feeling.

Of course, Gibson wants his life back. Exactly why it was taken from him in the first place isn’t revealed until late in the film. Far from adding suspense, this only drains from an already sputtering script a lot of much-needed drive — not to mention reason. Instead of putting pieces of the puzzle together, the only thing to do for much of the film is watch bodies get mashed and torn apart. To be fair, The 6th Day‘s body count is low, but only because the same bodies keep dying over and over: As Gibson snuffs the billionaire’s minions, he replaces them with exact copies, memory intact. Evidently, in the near future, cloning is full-service, while you wait.

Death, then, is wholly without consequence, a running gag that has gunmen grumbling lines such as ”Gimme a break, I got killed twice in two hours,“ while a hamstrung Schwarzenegger complains, ”Doesn‘t anyone stay dead anymore?“ But if Spottiswoode and the Wibberleys’ intent is to satirize the cartoonish nature of big-budget movie mayhem, the strategy backfires into a crude, not to say cruel, joke. When Schwarzenegger orders a corporate security guard to do as he says because he doesn‘t want the daughter he’s rescuing to be exposed to graphic violence, The 6th Day achieves a level of hypocrisy astounding less for its brazenness than for its sheer stupidity. The cheap thrill of graphic violence is about the only asset this movie has going for it, which, while it might be morally repugnant to some, is also just plain sad filmmaking.

That the film‘s dependence on the quick fix of easy death goes hand-in-hand with its inability to muster an even remotely convincing argument against human cloning — especially as it’s presented here, a form of immortality — sets the mind spinning with possibilities. One can see a day when Hollywood replaces its stunt people and effects wizards with clones, camera-ready to be thrown off buildings or have their legs shot off. Sooner than you think.#

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