The Running Man

Watching his back: Arnold Schwarzenegger in <i>The 6th Day</i>

Watching his back: Arnold Schwarzenegger in The 6th Day

Los Angeles--

A few days before the start of the election that would never end, GOP-booster Arnold Schwarzenegger is casting his vote in favor of...human cloning. "I would feel perfectly fine with being cloned--even while I'm alive," proclaims Der Arnold, waving his huge right hand like a man working a much bigger crowd than the one gathered here to disseminate his views in a dozen papers across North America. "Eventually, lawmakers are going to have to cave in to the whole idea," he predicts, "because countries like England have already stepped forward to allow the research on human cloning and organ cloning and all of those things. Something is going to develop. Already there are companies looking for investments, saying that they are able to clone pets. And the biggest business will be the zoos around the world that don't have enough animals. So if they need a tiger or a panda--whatever it may be--they will be able to duplicate it exactly."

So--one star-spangled elephant coming right up? On one level, Schwarzenegger's die-hard support for creatively engineered immortality isn't surprising: After all, big business is all about mass production. (And besides, Clinton and Gore are voting against it.) But in terms of The 6th Day, the $85 million sci-fi juggernaut he's here at the Four Seasons to promote, Schwarzenegger's pro-replication stance runs somewhat counter to the movie's psychological subtext: an action icon's legitimate fear that an unauthorized copy--Keanu Reeves, let's say, or Jet Li--might outpump him. Set in the near future ("sooner than you think," according to an onscreen title card), The 6th Day finds the former box-office Terminator waking to a different sort of morning in America. Here, radical breakthroughs have allowed for the likes of Replacement Technologies, a company specializing (illegally) in the creation of new and improved physiques. On his birthday, no less, Schwarzenegger's old-fashioned family man is horrified to discover his clone celebrating the big event with his wife and daughter. Literally and otherwise, another action hero has encroached on the Terminator's turf.

Initially, The 6th Day was conceived by the studio as an Everyman sort of drama--something for David Duchovny, perhaps, or David Schwimmer. But when Schwarzenegger called to express his interest in the script (doctored by an uncredited John Sayles, of all people), the decision was made that maybe the star of Jingle All the Way and End of Days ($96 million combined U.S. gross) might be well-suited to the tale of a man who has had everything taken from him. "There's certainly some distinction between this Arnold and the Eighties Arnold," acknowledges über-producer Mike Medavoy, who worked with the actor on both The Terminator and Terminator 2 ($240 million combined U.S. gross). "This isn't Arnold going after somebody: This is Arnold being chased. I think there's a certain acceptance of him in this kind of role."

Thus, the new, more vulnerable Schwarzenegger--age 53, and the recent recipient of two open-heart surgeries--begins The 6th Day flexing in the mirror and wondering aloud whether he looks any different. (Suffice it to say that it's not 1985 anymore.) Shot in Vancouver as a means of shaving some $20 million off the budget, the film also reflects the star's less-than-omnipotent status in its careful regard for the outer limits of PG-13--which nevertheless allows a wide variety of shootings, neck-snappings, and dismemberments, not to mention the decapitation of a "Sim-Pal Cindy" clone that calls to mind a retarded Chucky.

In this sluggish year for commercial movies, Jack Valenti's ratings board is evidently protecting the needs of Hollywood more than Washington. Yet Schwarzenegger, for his part, sees his gentler new bloodbath as "a story that ought to be enjoyed by the whole family." (Indeed, Grandma and the kids will love the scene where the bad guy's leg gets torn off in a hailstorm of bullets.) "This isn't like in Conan the Barbarian, seeing heads fly through the air with blood squirting, or having a pit fight where we destroy people and gouge out their eyes," clarifies Schwarzenegger. "This is more about a man losing his family, losing his home--losing his life, basically."

Alas, The 6th Day isn't particularly poignant in its depiction of the falling star's allegorical need to "get home," so eager is it to assert that, in a highly competitive market, the heavy-lifter can still headline a loud, chaotic, ultimately boring big-screen videogame with 650 FX shots and a near-equal number of moronic one-liners. "I take my work always very seriously," says the actor, very seriously. "I remember back when I was competing in bodybuilding, when I really felt like, 'I am going to win,' I was still totally nervous about it. Like, 'I hope this is going to go well. I hope I get the right poses in. I hope I connect with the audience.'"

But the bottom line still matters most. When one writer hints that it must have been fun for the star to act opposite his clone, Der Arnold demurs. "That's a very sensitive subject," he says jokingly, but without a smile. "Because I did not get paid twice."