Doug Kinney (Keaton) is an overworked contractor, who wishes to spend more time with his family and for himself, but also doesn't want to pass up opportunities at work. During a routine construction gig, he decides to go off on his own just to collect his thoughts. Seeing how overworked he is, Dr. Leeds (Harris Yulin) offers him an opportunity for more time: a clone.
The Doctor, in an "instant human, just add water", kind of way, successfully creates an exact duplicate of Doug and labels him "2". The clone contains all of the quirks, memories, mannerisms, etc, of the original up to the divergent point - and is horrified at first to discover he can't live his life as the "original" anymore. The doctor gives the clone a set of clothes to walk out with, and the rest is up to Doug.
In order to keep this from his wife Laura (MacDowell), the clone is only allowed to live in the guest room above the garage, and only comes out for work and... nothing much else. Being a complete human, the clone doesn't take to this much. The clone decides to get completely obsessed by his work, fires a long time friend of the original (the firing was justified, but he did so very cruelly), and actually tries to go on a date with someone, being that he is technically not "married". The original, now freed from work responsibilities altogether, spends more time with the wife and kids. Doug eventually allows his wife to go back to work, and tries to rekindle their relationship at a night out...in the same restaurant where the clone has taken his date.
Seeing his clone's problems with isolated life, he gets a second clone to keep the first clone company. The two clones eventually develop completely contrasting personalities, though only as far as a comedy will let it. They also decide to create a clone of their own (to perform the menial household chores neither of them want to do); since this third clone is a copy of a copy, he comes out a little, well, blurry. Over time, things get complicated with the clone arrangement. Situations call for the clones to sneak into the house, and when caught, unaware of the difference, his wife increasingly asks what is up with his dynamic personality.
In order to maintain at least some control over the situations, the original comes up with a couple rules concerning the clones.
- No clone may have sex with his wife. (Which is broken, by all three clones, in one night.)
- No more clones are to be made.
Things escalate between the Doug and Laura to the point she leaves to stay with her mother. Doug decides in order to win her back, he will need the clones for one more assignment, and then sends them on their way. The clones now live in Miami, with #2 and #3 running a pizzeria and #4 delivering them.
Despite the film's complete disregard for the actual science of cloning, it is still a lighthearted comedy about the need to juggle life and work, and the possible solutions and new problems you might cause.
This film presents examples of the following tropes:
- Bed Trick: An inadvertent example of this happens with all three clones, who Laura mistakes for Doug in succession. He is quite upset to find out about this, as he'd explicitly forbidden all of them to have sex with her.
- Camp Straight: #3 winds up as this when he's slotted into the "homemaker" role.
- Clone Degeneration: The Movie. #2 and #3 both take after different aspects of Doug's personality, while #4 used #2 as a template, which made him come out childlike and slow (the actual cloning process in the film is undisclosed, but apparently works a bit like a Xerox machine).
- Clones Are People, Too
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander: #4 aka Lenny. Since he was cloned from #2, he comes out more than a little funny in the head, due to being a copy of a copy. The logistics are explained very similarly to generation loss.
- Crocodile Tears: Doug's wife used tears to manipulate him into letting her go back to work, when really she shouldn't have needed his permission in the first place.
- Double Vision: Particularly impressive scenes include one in which all four versions of the protagonist are shaving in a large bathroom mirror, and one in which one version tosses a beer to another. Methods used include splicing together multiple takes of the scene, and digitally stitching Michael Keaton's face onto the head of a body double.
- Duplicate Divergence: Many of the conflicts between Doug and the clones come about from their diverging personalities in relation to their "jobs".
- Literal Split Personality: See trope details.
- Married to the Job
- Nice Guy: Dr. Leeds.
- Product Placement: Doug manages to get some important intel on his wife's emotional state that she only confided to #4 by bribing him with Coca-Cola. Labels out, of course.
- Recursive Creators: Overworked guy creates clone to do his work for him. Overworked clone creates clone...
- Rage Breaking Point: When Vic arrives late for the umpteenth time, this time by a full hour, Lance fires him and tells him to leave. Vic instead argues that he was certain he was told to be there at 1:30 instead of 2:30 as he was told. Visibly frustrated, Lance tells him that he's fired and to get out now. When Vic instead refuses, claiming that his firing is a negotiation tactic, Lance snaps, grabs Vic by his overalls, drags him back to his (Vic's) truck, throws the door open, tosses him inside, reaches inside and actually disengages it's parking brake and begins physically pushing the truck away.
- Shout-Out: Doug Kinney is named after the late Doug Kenney, co-founder of National Lampoon magazine and a once good friend of director Harold Ramis.
- Stay in the Kitchen: "That's why you have breasts," is used as a reason why the wife should not go back to work, and should automatically be nurturing toward children.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?
- You Are Number 6: The clones are known as Doug #2, Doug #3, and Doug #4, though they later rename themselves Lance, Rico, and Lenny.