THE 6TH DAY 124 minutes, PG-14, directed by Roger Spottiswoode, written by Cormac Wibberley and Marianne Wibberley.
The last time audiences saw Arnold Schwarzenegger, he was huffing and puffing and trying to blow down the devil – all while trying to blow some hot air into his cold career.
It was in the horrific thriller “End of Days,” a movie that was so bad and did so poorly at the box office, it failed to convince anyone that Schwarzenegger still had it in him to be a relevant action star – one who could not only take down the bad guys without looking like a middle-aged has-been, but one who also could justify a $20 million paycheck.
He did neither, but that didn’t stop Arnold. Now, in Roger Spottiswoode’s “The 6th Day,” a futuristic thriller about the not-so-surprisingly ugly ramifications of human cloning, Schwarzenegger returns as Adam Gibson, a family man who lives in a world where parents regularly clone their children’s dead pets so little Tina or Timmy won’t ever have to suffer the hardship of finding Fluffy doubling as a hassock in the living room.
When Gibson returns home one evening to find his clone seated at the dinner table with his wife and daughter, it becomes clear that this whole cloning business is out of hand. Now under siege by a bunch of clone-happy operatives, led by Tony Goldwyn and Robert Duvall, Gibson predictably hits the road running in an effort to stay alive while trying to find out how this happened and why he, of all people, was targeted for cloning.
The script, written by Cormac and Marianne Wibberley, distills the ethical and moral issues surrounding human cloning into neat sound bites, some of which are intentionally funny, while others try to be profound, but really only manage to bear the combined weight of the Doublemint twins.
Not that anyone will be coming to this film to decide whether it’s morally right to resurrect grandpa from the grave. They’re expecting action, which “The 6th Day” has, but it’s never as thrilling or as ingeniously conceived as the action scenes in Schwarzenegger’s best films, “The Terminator” and “Terminator 2.”
Indeed, a good part of “The 6th Day” is so caught up in ethics, it forgets it’s supposed to be an action film. Throughout much of it, audiences might be better entertained counting the offspring of Dolly the sheep.
DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS 105 minutes, PG-13, directed by Courtney Solomon, written by Topper Lilien and Carroll Cartwright.
After doing extremely well as a director of high school plays, director Courtney Solomon finally makes his cinematic debut in “Dullards and Dummies” – excuse me, “Dungeons and Dragons.” This certainly is one of the more curious disasters to come out of Hollywood this year. Or, for that matter, any year.
Based on the popular interactive game, the film feels like a medieval clone of “The Phantom Menace” powered by a pooped-out Pentium chip.
At its basic level – and basic is a word well-used here – the film features an imperiled empress (Thora Birch) fighting for equality between the haves and have-nots.
Trying to thwart her at every turn is an evil Mage named Profion (Jeremy Irons), a man who’s having some monumental problems of his own. Indeed, Profion is under attack by Empress Savina’s loyal supporters (Justin Whalin, Zoe McLellan, Marlon Wayans, Kristen Wilson and Lee Arenberg), a bumbling group of fools who are supposed to provide comic relief, but never really do.
Incomprehensible from the get-go, “Dungeons and Dragons” is a pixilated mess that clogs the screen with so much cheesy computer-generated hooha, one half expects a Bill Gates cameo midway through.
While it’s not quite as bad as “Battlefield Earth,” it’s also not much better than, say, taking a sledgehammer to the forehead. Birch is a long-winded bore and Wayans is little more than a racial stereotype, but neither is as bad as Jeremy Irons, whose over-the-top performance is so embarrassing, it suggests the long out-of-work actor might stay out of work for good.
On video and DVD
SHAFT 98 minutes, R, directed by John Singleton, written by Singleton, Richard Price and Shane Salerno.
What better litmus test to gauge the timidity of our times and the political correctness of our culture than to make a movie based on Gordon Parks’ 1971 film, “Shaft.” The original film, which wasn’t just about the myth of black male sexuality as realized in Richard Roundtree’s deeply sexual character John Shaft, but also about race, racial tension and the righteous anger that underscored the black experience in urban America during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Now played by Samuel L. Jackson, John Shaft still is the man, but he’s a less complicated man. He’s no longer a black man bearing the weight of social injustice, but a black man who has come into his own as the result of a cultural shift.
The passing of three decades has wrought other differences. The film’s violent plot mirrors the original in that it sinks Shaft straight into the throes of a racially motivated murder, but this time the murder isn’t used as a political statement. Instead, it’s used as a plot element meant to spark the action and – naturally – to draw people to the film.
The good news here is that the script is nevertheless gritty. Richard Price, who wrote “Clockers,” is the film’s chief scribe, and his influence is all over the dialogue, which is as tough and as sharp as the people the film depicts.
What’s better is that the action never is glamorized. The film has a refreshing matter-of-factness, a snubbing of special effects that actually increases the weight and the intensity of the action. When somebody gets shot, they simply drop dead. There are no unnecessary histrionics, and – unlike a John Woo film – frightened pigeons play no part in death’s equation.
Finally, the film’s cast – Jackson, Jeffrey Wright, Vanessa Williams, Christian Bale, Toni Collette, Busta Rhymes, Dan Hedaya, and Richard Roundtree in cameo as Shaft’s uncle – wisely never play their parts for camp. This may be a popcorn movie – and one that’s great fun to watch – but it has serious undertones.
Camp would have killed it.
Christopher Smith is the Bangor Daily News film critic. His reviews appear Mondays in Style and Thursdays in the scene.
THE VIDEO CORNER
Renting a video? NEWS film critic Christopher Smith can help. Below are his grades of recent releases in video stores.
The Road to El Dorado B-
Scary Movie B-
Gone in 60 Seconds D
Nutty Professor II C+
The In Crowd F+
The Replacements D
Chicken Run A
Big Momma’s House B
Boys and Girls C-
Fantasia 2000 A-
The Perfect Storm A
Mission: Impossible 2 B+
Titan A.E. B-
Return to Me B+
Center Stage D+
The Patriot B+
Toy Story 2 A
Keeping the Faith B+
Rules of Engagement C-