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End of Days (1999)

by on 2010/12/31

As the final hours of 2010 slip by, I’m wrapping up the last of the late December reviews, and thinking about the significance of the new year in each.  I chose all three — Entrapment, Strange Days, and End of Days — for their shared focus on the then-imminent millennial transition, the so-called Y2K.

For Entrapment, the changeover fed a plot device, enabling thieves to circumvent a security system.  For them, Y2K was an opportunity.

For Strange Days, it was a backdrop:  intrigue against the chaos and rioting born of celebrations and civil unrest.  The end of the past, the beginning of the future, a turning point.

For End of Days, it’s neither hopeful, nor incidental.  It’s the apocalyptic end of all we hold dear.  No happy new year here.

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Jericho Cane, a private security specialist.  Former cops, he and his partner, Bobby Chicago (Kevin Polllack) are guarding a Wall Street banker (Gabriel Byrne) when they all become involved in a grand biblical conspiracy.  The banker becomes possessed by Satan, radical clerics begin waves of attacks against him, and our heroes get caught in the crossfire.  Their only way out is to locate Satan’s foretold bride, Christine York (Robin Tunney), and keep her safe until after midnight, presumably Eastern Standard Time.

On one hand, the characters make such jokes, challenging the religious prophecy’s details, reminding us their world is ours, or at least equally real.  On the other hand, the story stretches credibility to suit its own purposes.  Contrivance in fiction is to be expected, but more successful works do a better job of disguising their own artifice.

Cane’s logic-leaping — for example, a “Christ in NY” tattoo leads him to understand Satan is targeting “Christine York” — is patently ludicrous.  As is the fact that 1999 should be the year of Satan’s appearance because it contains “666” (the Number of the Beast).  And shouldn’t Cane be getting his weapons blessed if he is to have any hope of harming Satan?

For all these issues, and many more, End of Days is still entertaining.  It’s got Arnold Schwarzenegger in it, obviously.  While always a draw, he’s clearly ill-suited to the dark tone of this tale.  It’s not the darkness of a time-travelling robot, but the darkness of a man powerless to avoid his wife and daughter being gunned down.  Presented with a twenty-five million dollar payday, his chosen recourse is to do more of the “plasticky” mugging we saw so much of in Total Recall.

Gabriel Byrne is an appropriately debauched and menacing villain.  Though his accent sounds uncertain of its lineage, I can’t go along with his Razzie nomination.  Robin Tunney is effective for what little she does as The Victim, and Rod Steiger is a cool surprise as an oracular priest, more tough and savvy than the usual weak and deluded clergymen of such efforts.

Meanwhile, Kevin Pollack is Kevin Pollack.  I love him as much here as in any role he’s done before.  He even has some great zingers but, unfortunately, they tend to trip up, and over, Arnie’s own one-liners.  The resultant verbal sparring is less duelling banjos than a poor man’s Mamet-speak.

As for the production itself, it feels strongly like a Seventies crime film, with most scenes taking place by night, in gritty, smoky locations, and shot through a golden brown palette.  I’ve read of the movie being compared to The Exorcist but — having seen both recently — I have to disagree.  Other than the possession aspect, I would liken it with Rosemary’s Baby . . . one reinvented as a procedural/action mashup.

In a sense, End of Days gives us a kind of “prequel” glimpse into the I Am Legend that never was, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and directed by Ridley Scott.  We have an entropic New York City, a burned out survivor, and hordes of robed cultists.  It falls firmly into the “guilty pleasure” category:  flawed in parts, and unremarkable on balance, yet replete with fun genre fixtures.

* * *

Rated R for adult situations, language, nudity, substance abuse, and extreme violence

123 minutes

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