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Release: 1999, Universal
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Byrne, Robin Tunney, Kevin Pollak, Rod Steiger
Director: Peter Hyams
MPAA Rating: [R] violence, language, sexuality, nudity
Runtime: 120 minutes
On the eve of the new millennium, Satan (Byrne) assumes human form to seduce a chosen female (Tunney), thus completing a prophecy that will bring about the end of days of mankind. A beaten down ex-cop, Jericho Cane (Schwarzenegger) must stop the diabolical plan.
Some unexpected, thought-provoking moments can't rescue a movie that is nothing more than an illogical chain of idiotic events.
Believe it or not, there were a few moments in this movie that made me want to give it an 8. The only problem is that these moments are few and far between, and everything else made me want to give it a 2. On the plus side, Arnold's character of Jericho Cane is one that is sufficiently developed, albeit rather textbook. An ex-cop whose wife and daughter were killed by criminals he testified against, he is haunted by guilt and loss. As such, he's also lost his faith in God. As he puts it, he had a "disagreement" with God: he believed they should live, while God apparently believed otherwise. It might not be anything terribly new to Hollywood, but it does have a way of getting you to sympathize with Arnold.
The other interesting character in End of Days is Satan, as portrayed by Gabriel Byrne. Having played a world-weary priest in this year's Stigmata, he's covered both sides of the theological coin, and it's a credit to his performances that he's equally believable in both roles. He's menacing here, and he conducts business Terminator-style, snapping heads, setting people on fire, and causing explosions. In one of the more bad-ass scenes, he steps into a church and walks down the aisle, unabated by the rebuttal of the clergy.
Satan and Arnold have one good exchange in which they bat around theology and justice. Byrne delivers a speech similar to Al Pacino's in The Devil's Advocate, about God being indifferent to man. His suggestion that the Bible is a masterwork of propaganda and that "when something good happens, it's God's will--when something bad happens, He works in mysterious ways" is a bold statement of an interesting contradiction. To further his argument, he offers to eliminate the emotional pain Arnold is experiencing, claiming that God is unfair and would never be as merciful. It's an interesting dilemma that emphasizes Satan's role as a practiced liar and tempter. One particularly wicked moment comes when Byrne's Satan booms at an image of the Crucifixion, "You died for nothing. You only bought them time."
There's a few funny scenes: Arnold shooting his partner (Kevin Pollack) in the arm to prove he's not the Devil in disguise; Arnold getting the crap beat out of him by an old woman apparently possessed; and Arnold shouting at the Devil, "You're a choirgirl compared to me!" Actually, when he says it, it sounds more like, "Yew-uh qui-uh gul comp-aid to mee!"
End of Days also offers a good deal of violent action, a few cheap scares, and a couple of disturbing images, such as the mass of miniature people crawling out of an apple.
Now that we got the good out of the way, let's summarize the bad: JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING ELSE.
This movie takes some passages from the Bible and stretches them so far beyond credibility and believability that it looks foolish. For example, a priest claims that the Mark of the Beast isn't 666--what you need to do is turn it upside-down to get 999, then add a 1 in front of it so that you get 1999, which is the year of the return of the Anti-Christ. EXCUSE ME? Where did they come up with this one? And then there's the central plot of the entire movie: to begin his reign on earth, Satan needs to consummate with a chosen woman who will bear his child. That, supposedly, is the ultimate key to unlocking "the end of days" (this phrase is repeated many times, and the words "apocalypse" or "armageddon" are, curiously, never uttered once). I remember reading in Revelations that Satan would be unlocked from his prison for a set period of time and rule the world, but nowhere do I remember reading that he was required to get his f*ck on with a skitzy chick.
That brings us to Christine York, the chosen girl played by Robin Tunney, previously seen in The Craft. Not only do we feel complete apathy for her, but she never gets a single interesting line in the whole damned movie. Why was she chosen to bear Satan's child? What the hell was so special about her? We never get the impression that she is the archetype virgin to be symbolically and physically defiled, nor do we get the feeling that she's particularly hooked up with evil. Instead, she's just painfully neutral. Poor Tunney...first End of Days, and now the upcoming Supernova, which threatens to be the first absolute dud of the year 2000.
The way Arnold locates the chosen girl is painfully lame. He takes a garbled phrase and says, "Maybe he was saying Christmas in New York...or Christ in New York...or Christine York." After hitting the nail on the head after only five seconds of such brain-wracking deduction, Arnold runs the name Christine York through the New York DMV records and comes up with a smiley photo and address for said Miss York. If only the real cops could work this efficiently...
Logic is also abandoned at every turn. Never mind the fact that Arnold is trying to take out the Devil with guns and ammo. It also turns out that all of New York is a bunch of Satan worshippers out to kill the innocent. Far-fetched betrayals occur about every minute. And Satan falls into the role of stereotypical James Bond villain when he talks about his master plan and bringing pain to Arnold instead of just killing Arnold when he has the chance. Somehow, I doubt a mere mortal would ever stand a chance of dueling with the Devil, but we're sort of forced to assume that Arnold vs. Lucifer is a fair match.
The story even drops the ball on its own plot device at the end. First, it's implied that Gabriel Byrne's body was previously chosen to complete the end of days, just as Tunney's body had been. But then he gets shot up to a bloody pulp, there are suddenly other ways to deliver the Satan seed...
Portraying the Catholic church as mindless, murderous sheep, End of Days manages to offend die-hard Bible-thumpers in ways "controversial" films like Dogma and Stigmata could never dream of.
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