It’s no coincidence that Arnold Schwarzenegger frequently plays characters who are something not quite human. Android, mutant, even fictional constructfor Arnie, they’re all more believable than regular guy. In The 6th Day, the actor stresses his humanity by calling attention to his wrinkles, and his character is outfittedas his often arewith a cozy family. But things don’t get going until Schwarzenegger’s Adam (no, his wife’s not named Eve) has been cloned.
It’s the “near future,” and cloned pets are accepted but cloning humans is illegal. Adam is an ace helicopter pilot whose company is called Double X Charters. (I get the “double” part, but wouldn’t Arnold be XY?) While his partner, Hank (Michael Rapaport), relaxes every night with a virtual vixen, Adam doesn’t even believe in test-tube dogs and cats: He’s reluctant to visit the RePet cloning clinic in the local mall when his 8-year-old daughter’s dog dies. Adam finds himself waist-deep in DNA, however, after his firm is hired by Drucker (Tony Goldwyn), a powerful businessman who not only owns RePet (and a football franchise) but also does a big business in illicit human clones. (Unlike today’s scientists, he can re-create a person at exactly the same age and consciousness as when he or she died.) Drucker’s chief scientist is the fundamentally well-meaning Dr. Weir (Robert Duvall), who got into cloning in order to sustain the life of his wifeor someone who looks just like her.
Within moments of discovering that he’s been cloned, Adam is visited by a murderous clone posse headed by a cold-blooded thug (the ever-ominous Michael Rooker) and including a Matrix-y chick (Sarah Wynter). Adam has to figure out what’s happenedand what Drucker is up towhile dodging bursts of laser fire. He also has to answer an ontological question: Am I Adam, or is the other Adam?
This aspect of Cormac and Marianne Wibberley’s script is clearly designed to recall Total Recall, but The 6th Day is a good deal less involved than that film, Schwarzenegger’s most metaphysical shoot-’em-up thanks to its origin in a Philip K. Dick story. Directed functionally by Roger Spottiswoode, The 6th Day quickly moves past its ambiguities, thanks in part to the willingness of characters like Drucker and Dr. Weir to explain the whole plot to Adam (and us). It turns out that Drucker’s clones have built-in expiration datesa device that recalls the replicants of another Dick-derived tale, Blade Runner. After a few more nasty surprises, Adamwell, at least one of themconfidently shifts into the phase where he has a better plan than his ruthless, powerful, well-funded opponents.
The possibility of cloning solves one of the conceptual flaws of the Schwarzeneggerian action hero, who always seems to have more lives than a RePetted cat. It’s not Adam who gets repeatedly cloned, however, but Drucker’s goons. This allows for some vicious mutilation, as Adam blows off his enemies’s feet and fingers, snaps their necks, or sends them crashing to the ground with a sickening thud. Because the bad guys canand willbe expeditiously regenerated at Drucker’s lab, their deaths are meant to be unreal, like the demises of video-game villains who are always ready to threaten again the next time the game begins. (Video games also obviously influenced a helicopter chase through a canyon that is completely unrelated to the plot.)
The filmmakers are so sure that their depiction of severed human bits is not really savage, in fact, that they give Adam an ironic mid-battle speech in which he remarks that he doesn’t want his daughter to see the violence because “she gets enough of that from the media.” That joke must have tickled the MPAAit rated this murder-and-dismemberment fest PG-13.
Los Angeles used to be a tidy little town, remarks one of the many minor characters in Anglo-Indian director Gurinder (Bhaji on the Beach) Chadha’s first American movie, but now it sprawls forever. Rest assured, however, that What’s Cooking? will prove that L.A.and indeed the U.S.A.is a small town. Set on Thanksgiving, this dramedy stresses the similarities between four clans, one African-American, one Jewish, one Latino, and one Vietnamese.
Each family has its own problems, and each faces a dinner-table surprise, but the problems and surprises are not culturally specific. Although every brood prepares its ethnic variations on the traditional meal, and two of them have members who break into their ancestral tongues, the traumas are pretty much interchangeable.
Audrey and Ronnie Williams (Alfre Woodard and Dennis Haysbert) are at odds because Ronnie works all the timeand for a right-wing governor clearly modeled on Pete Wilson. Audrey’s on edge because she’s stuck with her highly critical mother-in-law as she prepares dinner, but there are underlying tensions that explode when the meal commences, with the couple’s white friends, their nihilist teen daughter, andultimatelythe Williams’ estranged college-age son in attendance.
At the Seeligs, Ruth and Herb (Lainie Kazan and Maury Chaykin) have almost accepted that their daughter Rachel (Kyra Sedgwick) is in love with Carla (Julianna Margulies), but they don’t want the subject to come up at dinner. Rachel, however, can’t help but denounce the homophobic governorand besides, she has an announcement to make that just can’t be contained any longer.
Lizzie Avila (Mercedes Ruehl) has finally adapted to husband Javier’s desertion and has chosen Thanksgiving as the day to introduce her extended family to her new beau. Her Berkeley student daughter, Gina (Isidra Vega), is doing the same thing, bringing boyfriend Jimmy Nguyen (Will Yun Lee), who’s told his parents that he’s too busy at college to come home for their Thanksgiving. Then Lizzie learns that one of her sons has invited Javier (Victor Rivers) to the feast.
The Nguyens are disappointed that Jimmy’s not coming, but they have plenty of other concerns. Trinh (Joan Chen) is worried that her teenage daughter, Jenny (Kristy Wu), is having sexand with a white boy. Jenny has an even bigger shock for her parents, however: She’s found something disturbing in her younger brother’s room.
The links between these four clans grow tighter as Chadha and Paul Mayeda Berges’ script progresses, but the director emphasizes the characters’ family-of-man-hood from the beginning, energetically montageing the households’ meal preparations. Indeed, Chadha’s approach to the screenplay’s many clichés is to keep ’em coming like courses at a familial blowout. The developments are mostly mundane and predictable, but the film’s rhythm is sprightly enough to prevent any one plot thread from tripping the whole thing.
What’s Cooking? isn’t exactly a movie you’ve seen before; it’s more like four movies you’ve seen before, all at once. The presence of Kieu Chinh, here playing a warm Vietnamese grandmother, recalls last month’s (much worse) Catfish in Black Bean Sauce, in which she played an icy Vietnamese mother. And although Chadha restricts the film’s Indian flavor to a few sitar squiggles in its world-beat score, viewers may be reminded of East Is East’s Anglo-Indian dating traumas and Chutney Popcorn’s pregnant-lesbian plot, as well as many other recent culture-clash comedies.
What other than roast turkey makes L.A. a melting pot? The ’60s California rock sound, apparently. The four kitchen crews chop and baste to the strains of “Pipeline,” and the final moments of understanding and reconciliation come to “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”the first cinematic use of the vocal-only version from the Pet Sounds box set. Not only is this sequence a fine example of Chadha’s ability to transcend her material, it’s almost enough to give the whole movie good vibrations. CP