End of Days (1999)
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Byrne, Robin Tunney, Kevin Pollack, Rod Steiger,
C.C.H. Pounder, Renee Olstead, Udo Kier, Matt Gallini, Linda Pine.
Written by Andrew W. Marlowe.
Directed by Peter Hyams.
Review by Dana Knowles.
End of Days introduces us to its lead character with a scene straight out of Lethal Weapon. Jericho Cane (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is sitting in the dark, holding a gun to his head. We will soon discover the reason for his despair... his wife and child are dead. He doesn't kill himself, of course. Just like Mel Gibson didn't kill himself over that other dead wife in that other movie. It's an apt beginning to this particular film, because it establishes the overall approach of End of Days with absolute clarity: Why make an original movie when you can crib a bunch of scenes from other movies, change them slightly to fit this context, then cut them together and pretend you're releasing something fresh? It's jarring to watch the thievery add up as this turkey (now I understand the Thanksgiving release decision!) progresses. And even more jarring to keep up with the constant shifts in tone that accompany this mishmash of Millenial Horror Film and Smartass Action Flick. Barely a minute of the movie goes by between the harrowing sight of a man with a gun to his head and the wacky hilarity of watching him make the most disgusting breakfast imaginable (a nod to Rocky and those raw eggs, doncha know). The one thing we grasp immediately is that it's wise to dismiss anything serious that's introduced, as it will surely be followed by a lame-ass catch phrase or some other inappropriately timed nonsense. This relentless shift in tones is the only aspect of the film with any consistency, unless you consider the fact that it's consistently lousy to be some sort of achievement.
The story: Jericho is a private security guard, and he works with his pal Chicago (yep! That's his name!), who is played as a standard-issue goofball sidekick by Kevin Pollack. In the course of protecting a client, they stumble onto a religious prophecy that leads them to be entangled in the Apocalyptic return of Satan, who is coming to Earth to impregnate a woman so that he can rule the world. Or something like that. In what has to be one of the strangest cases of failure to mine an interesting premise imaginable, the client that Jericho and Chicago are protecting is--in fact--Satan (Gabriel Byrne). You'd think that the screenwriter could have found a way to use this... to concoct a narrative whereby our "hero" is unwittingly assisting the Devil's dirty work. But no. It's introduced and then immediately dropped in the wake of an assassination attempt and a chase. The chase is what leads them to discover that a woman may be in peril, and the story shifts to a clumsy series of scenes through which Jericho and Chicago figure out who she is and then try to protect her.
Along with that, we're treated to a lot of subplots about the Pope and the philosophical split between religious men who believe the woman Satan seeks should be killed and those who believe that she should not, as well as some background information and a nice helping of Satan-worshipping weirdos who pop up whenever more conflict is needed. The woman in question is Christine (another incredibly subtle name, which allows for a real howler of a plot twist at one point), and she's played in a Mia-Farrow-waiflike manner by Robin Tunney. She even has the haircut from that other woman-impregnated-by-Satan movie. If that were all that was lifted directly from Rosemary's Baby, the film might have been a bit more honorable. But there's plenty more where that haircut came from, though I won't spoil your fun by listing the dozens of "homages." The only thing that makes End of Days worth seeing is the spectre of testing your film knowledge. It's a two-hour game of Spot-the-Real-Movie in this DreckFest-Masquerading-as-a-Movie. By taking this attitude as the lights dim, you might actually find yourself reasonably engaged for the duration, because there are many, many things to spot.
The one bright spot in this mess is Gabriel Byrne, who is dapper and suave as this oh-so-cosmopolitan Satan. He's often funny in his utter disregard for others, and he looks terrific. The problem is, this Satan turns out to be an astonishing underachiever, which undercuts the suspense and fun, and makes the entire film play as ludicrous. Despite his ability to do whatever he wants to whomever he wants, Satan is outmatched by Jericho, because Arnold is the hero, and thus it must be so. This means that he strolls when he should run, or is thwarted when he should prevail, or that he delays doing what he could or should do for no reason other than to allow Arnold to catch up with him or thwart him again. Despite the immediacy inherent in the notion of Satan coming to Earth to accomplish his destiny with a proscribed set of limitations with regard to timing and circumstances, he acts as if it's no big deal to him whether he succeeds or fails. And this after waiting a thousand years for his shot at world domination? Incredible! It gets tiresome watching events play out to Schwarzenegger's advantage. As blasphemous as it may sound, I was definitely rooting for Satan.
The effects are good, but not great. Perhaps because they also seem lifted from an array of other films. As does the action. As does everything else on the screen. The script is dreadful, scraping the bottom of the barrel for dialogue or snarky comebacks. The "shocking" twists always reveal themselves a full reel or two before they happen. And the occasional attempts at serious drama or thematic content (such as Arnold beseeching God for help while claiming a return of his heretofore lost "faith") are pathetic and laughable. The performances (other than Byrne's) are either too flat or too campy. And the story lurches along from one ridiculous event to another. In this world, a priest who holds secret ceremonies beneath his cathedral doesn't bother to lock the door behind him after leaving a suspicious stranger on the other side of it. Okay! Also in this world, it can be established that Satan cannot see through the walls of a church, but characters decide to leave the church for no reason anyway. Fine! At one point, Satan appears to have bested Arnold, capturing him and "crucifying" him outside of a building... telling him that he intends to torture him to death. Then he leaves and forgets about Arnold entirely, which--of course--allows our hero to survive and be rescued and fight on. Cool!
To sum it up, if you've seen even a reasonable sampling of the following films, you've seen all there is to see in End of Days: Lethal Weapon, Rosemary's Baby, Se7en, Silence of the Lambs, The Devil's Advocate, The Warriors, The Exorcist, The Omen, Eraser, True Lies, Speed, Mimic, Angel Heart, Carrie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Entity, The Seventh Sign, and--though I haven't seen them--most likely Fallen and Stigmata, as well. There may indeed be an enthusiastic audience out there somewhere for this film, but they're likely to be folks who've seen fewer than a dozen films in the last thirty years. Or individuals who get a special kick out of watching priests frothing at the mouth and running about with giant daggers, intent on killing waiflike women. And even then, they'll have to be forgiving of an awful lot to find satisfaction with this stinky hunk of celluloid. To borrow a phrase from Bart Simpson that nails End of Days perfectly: It's Craptacular!
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