End Of Days
Rating -

Action/Thriller (US); 1999; Rated R; 120 Minutes

Arnold Schwarzenegger: Jericho Cane
Gabriel Byrne: The Man
Kevin Pollak: Chicago
Robin Tunney: Christine York
CCH Pounder: Det. Margie Francis
Rod Steiger: Father Kovak

Produced by Marc Abraham, Armyan Bernstein, Thomas A. Bliss, Bill Borden, Paul Deason, Andrew W. Marlowe; Directed by Peter Hyams; Screenwritten by Andrew W. Marlowe

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Written by DAVID KEYES

"End Of Days" is the most cheerfully lurid and absurd thriller to be thrown onto the screen since "In Dreams," a film so mistakenly goofy that it rambles on for two long hours without a clue of what it is doing wrong. In a premise that has ironically never caught the attention of the Catholic League (famous this year for bashing "Dogma" and "Stigmata), our beloved Satan is "freed from his prison" at the end of the millennium, seeking out the one who will bear his child, and bring forth the end of days among humanity. The undertone that carries this script is meant to be serious and prophetic (at least for those with millennium fever), but the viewer expects the devil to be portrayed as a malevolent, ruthless and cunning being with an ability to occasionally be funny (this was the case in "The Devil's Advocate" starring Al Pacino). By casting Gabriel Byrne as the host of the dark angel's coming, however, this treatment often misfires; instead of something dark and sinister, we essentially get a devil who is more like a caged animal in heat.

This is Byrne's second role of the year; his first was in the vastly underrated "Stigmata," in which he played a priest of confused faith seeking out answers as to why an atheist was being attacked in the form of the crucifixion. Both roles are associated with religious plots, but they are hardly comparable. Byrne remained swoon but dramatically alert in the first film; here, he is set loose like a child on a playground, free to do whatever he desires, no matter how illogical some things may seem.

The movie opens in the Vatican City, at the sight of a phenomenal event gracing the night skies--the "eye of God" (for those unfamiliar with it, the symbol contains a comet rushing over the top of Earth's moon). A priest witnesses it and relays the event to the Pope himself, who immediately announces "we must protect her." But protect who? Later, in a hospital room in New York, a child is born bearing a religious birthmark on her left arm. Nurses and doctors rush through the halls, take the child into a dark room downstairs, and perform some sort of religious ceremony in which a rattlesnake is slain, and its blood is put onto the lips of the infant. Legend has it that the child born is Satan's key to creating a kingdom of the damned on the surface of Earth--if he impregnates her on the last day of the last year of the millennium, it will bring forth the end of days.

20 years pass. Arnold Schwarzenegger, last seen in "Batman & Robin" about 18 months ago, plays Jericho Cane, a former cop whose daughter and wife were mercilessly slaughtered after he ignored threats and testified against some sort of criminal lord. Depressed, lazy and careless, he lives on as an alcoholic in his New York apartment, ever so often helping the police department in nailing tough criminals. The newest case involves the apprehension of a crazed priest wielding a gun from atop a building, who shoots at almost anything that moves. Schwarzenegger, like in most of his movies, chases the criminal through dangerous terrain, at first trying to capture him from a thread hanging from a helicopter, and later down in a subway. Suddenly, the priest turns to him and begins babbling about "the end of the 1000 years." When he refuses to lower his gun, Jericho fires and sends the priest off to the hospital. But a detective questions the former cop's credibility in the situation--Jericho swears that the priest was talking clearly and distinctively, but a quick examination points out that this man of the cloth has no tongue. Is something supernatural at work? No one really knows. The movie never bothers to explain it.

Jericho is intrigued by this revelation, and does research. He reads selections from the bible, uncovers evidence at the residence of the priest (including his tongue, and a pair of shears soaked in blood), and begins searching for a woman who may (or may not) know exactly what is going on with all these recent events. When he confronts another priest at church with his concerns, they give him no answers, other than the excuse that his lack of faith in God is part of the reason.

Christine is the name of the girl in question. She is played Robin Tunney, who is, apparently, the child shown in the first scenes. Living life like any normal 20-year old (except with deceased parents), she is haunted by endless visions, some of which depict her engaging in sexual activity with a man of dark black hair and a creature-like essence. When Jericho finally meets up with her, there is a sense of overwhelming pressure that consumes her characterization--she's had the dreams all her life, and is afraid that, eventually, she will give into them. Later, when Satan turns up in Jericho's apartment to strike a deal with him, the former-cop's heart goes on vapid, and he defends her safety by ignoring the devil's threats and proposals. Ever hear the expression "make an offer he can't refuse?" In this case, the one who makes the offer is thrown out the window to avoid acceptance.

Meanwhile, the church's head priest helps to hide Christine from the clutches of a searching Satan. If he knew what the lord of evildoings was capable of, though, the priest might have taken the advice of a fellow colleague, who points out earlier in the movie that the only way to save humanity is to kill the girl. Ergo, Satan is able gleefully step into the Cathedral of his own free will, in search of his mate. Further intrusive details (for the characters, at least) reveal that Satan's only attempt to impregnate Christine will happen during the last hour of New Year's Eve, 1999. Quick--what time zone does that apply to?

Like most films about judgment day, "End Of Days" suffers because its script is incoherent, absurdly complex, predictable, and confused about what exactly it is trying to say. Is it a thriller? Then how come we laugh? Is it the standard Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick? Then why does the director spend so much time on the theology? No matter how it is approached by the viewer, something is always unbalanced. There is one scene in the movie that will anger anyone who sees it, though--the priest is explaining to Jericho and Christine that, when you see the number "666," they are actually numbers that are reversed and upside down. Turn them over, add a one to the beginning, and--in utter disbelief--we arrive at the year 1999. Ironic? More like moronic.

To its credit, the movie has a few slight high points. I admired the performance of Robin Tunney as Christine York, a woman haunted by images of a man who wants to sleep with her; she holds back her feelings because she fears that they might influence a decision immoral to her existence. When Satan confronts her with the proclamation "you can't say no to me, because you don't want to," there is no response from her fearful face; she remains stern, distant, confused and worried about her fate, and that of the planet as well. Most characters in this situation would release their fearfulness in loud, terrifying screams (this is Satan, after all). The dread that comes across Christine's eyes is all the plot requires, and Tunney never lets us down.

As far as special effects go, "End Of Days" has a few rich visual touches. The final scene, which wraps up the fate of our planet, is staged with an interesting flavor, as Satan unleashes his anger on Jericho when chances for bringing for the end of days become hopeless. The dark angel rips open the walls of the church, crushes stained glass windows, and appears in one final moment as an image of pure fire (Stan Winston, the visual effects advisor of "Terminator 2" and "Total Recall," is at work here).

The movie may not add up to much by the end, but we have a mildly good time watching it try.

1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org. Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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