"I don't want to expose her to any graphic violence," ace helicopter pilot Adam Gibson (Arnold Schwarzenegger), referring to his daughter, quips to a pair of bad guys during a sequence late in "The 6th Day," the star's latest sci-fi extravaganza. "She already gets enough of that from the media."
The remark, directed at those legislators and others who have assailed Hollywood violence in recent months, is one of several pleasant, unforced moments of comic relief in an otherwise deadly sober thriller. And despite the decrease in the volume of spilled blood, the PG-13-rated futuristic action movie from Roger Spottiswoode ("Tomorrow Never Dies") offers genre fans plenty of mayhem, including the sight of twisted necks and various appendages -- a leg, a thumb with black fingernail polish -- sliced off courtesy of laser guns.
Spottiswoode's film, directed from a screenplay by husband-and-wife screenwriting team Cormac and Marianne Wibberley, is set in the America of the not-too-distant future. It's a time and a place where computer-age inventions rule the landscape. Holographic schools of fish fill up the visual space at the center of a popular, multi-level shopping complex.
Digital technology, too, has afforded the creation of all kinds of cyber beings, including a voluptuous, sports-loving, beer-toting virtual girlfriend (Jennifer Gareis) for Adam's fellow helicopter flyer, Hank (Michael Rapaport), and virtual lawyers and virtual psychiatrists for those facing run-ins with the law. Cars drive to riders' intended destinations, with only occasional human guidance. Refrigerated goods are refilled automatically, without the need to travel to grocery stores.
Most troubling to Adam, and to religious groups described as "fundamentalists," are the implications of RePet, a service that allows families to replace dead or dying pets with perfectly identical, cloned versions of their favorites dogs or cats. The business -- their motto: "when love means no surprises" -- is just one arm of Replacement Technologies, a giant corporation headed by Michael Drucker, a go-getter not averse to breaking laws against human cloning in his efforts to gather even greater wealth.
Adam, after a day spent flying remote-control jets, stops by RePet, to give some more consideration to the suggestion by his wife Natalie (Wendy Crewson) that they replace the ailing family dog with an identical canine. Instead, he picks up creepy Sim-Pal doll Cindy, a toy that refuses to stop talking. Back at home, with the consolation prize in hand, he discovers that his surprise birthday party is in process, and at the center of it all is a cloned version of Adam.
It's the flip side of the comedy "Multiplicity." This time, the clones are symptoms of an evil plot, one made possible by the brilliant research of a visionary scientist, Dr. Weir (Robert Duvall), who has tossed away ethics in the name of a bigger paycheck.
Our hero thus goes on the lam, barely escaping from Drucker's vicious associates (played by Michael Rooker, Sarah Wynter and Rod Rowland) time and again, and eventually battling his way to the nerve center of Replacement Technologies, to do battle with the kingpin himself. Or is he a clone?
"The 6th Day," we're never entirely sure if the person we're watching is the original, or a carbon copy. The same might be said about the movie itself: Great visuals, including more than 600 special-effects shots that look terrific on the big screen (and ought to have a long life on DVD), but it all seems vaguely familiar. Schwarnezegger has visited similar terrain before, in "Total Recall" and "The Terminator." And so have we.