Review: 'End of Days' doesn't end soon enough
November 29, 1999
By Reviewer Paul Tatara
(CNN) -- Arnold Schwarzenegger is at it again, taking his job as America's favorite action-panderer to startling new depths with a vile slice of millennial madness called "End of Days."
Schwarzenegger has been on a losing streak for a couple of films now, at least as far as Hollywood power brokers are concerned. Winners in that world are actors who -- no matter how crass, uninspired or semi-talented -- can open a picture with a huge weekend gross, then rabidly promote it all the way to $150 million in box-office receipts. If you can't do that, then you're just another muscle-bound lug with an impressive Rolodex.
Arnie's not taking any chances this time, and the result is the most questionably repulsive big-budget film in recent memory. You can debate forever whether violence in movies creates violence in real life. But there's no denying that many teens, stoked as they are on multiple channels of excessive gore, are being drawn to increasingly vivid depictions of death and debasement. And it can't be doing their spirits much good.
"End of Days" is a spiteful roller coaster of blood and humiliation that gives the "Quake" and "Doom" generation exactly what it's looking for. It may not kill anybody, but it's a very expensive attempt to profit from our increasingly frayed sense of humanity.
Thankfully, you're still allowed to make whatever type of film you'd like to make in this country. But how low do the people who concoct and peddle these things have to go before they're finally ashamed of themselves? You have to wonder what they see when they look into their mirrors in the morning, outside of great big dollar signs.
If you have any self-respect you'll want to consider staying away from this pathetically scripted, mean-spirited foolishness, regardless of your age.
Schwarzenegger "plays" (i.e. "poorly recites dialogue written for") an alcoholic cop named Jericho Cane. Scenes of Cane chugging vodka and crying over the murders of his loving wife and daughter are inserted among the carnage to imply emotional depth.
When we first meet him, he's even considering shooting himself in the head. Unfortunately, a knock on the door from his wiseacre partner (Kevin Pollak) interrupts the suicide attempt. Snapping out of it, Cane then whips up some breakfast by tossing coffee, Pepto-Bismol and a slice of pizza into a blender. That's the extent of the radical departure from audience expectations that Arnie's been crowing about on TV for the past couple of weeks.
The story is set in the final days of 1999. The Pope and his cardinals are quaking in their gilded robes in anticipation of Satan's return to Earth at the presumed onset of the new millennium. Evidently, none of them realizes that the millennium won't begin until 2001.
Numerous recitations of theological claptrap establish that Mr. Evil has picked an unsuspecting woman as the mother of his Earth-conquering child, and he needs to impregnate her during the last hour of the 1,000 years. Some renegade members of the Vatican want to find the woman and kill her before Satan gets a chance to woo her. Others, including the rickety-looking Pope, insist on trying to protect her from the ultimate evil.
Cut to New York, where Schwarzenegger is shot by a sniper, then dangled from a helicopter and swung across building rooftops as he tries to grab a fleeing gunman. So much for theology. The chase ends in a dark subway tunnel that's lit about as well as the rest of the film's locations.
Director Peter Hyams does his own cinematography. He relies on the popular hack style, in which common house lamps throw off ominous shadows rather than illuminating anything.
The sniper in question warns Arnold of the coming evil, only to be shot and killed when it's determined that a body taking a bullet is more fun to watch than a hectoring religious zealot.
A little illegal police work by Cane and his partner determines that the guy was a priest who cut off his own tongue and stored it in a jar in his apartment full of pentangles and Satanic knickknacks. We're supposed to be filled with dread because he was able to talk to Cane even though he was tongueless. You're more likely to be filled with dread because the movie is just getting under way.
Relying on an astoundingly accurate wild guess, Arnold tracks down Christine York, the young woman who's been picked to mother Satan Jr. Robin Tunney plays York, and she looks great without being able to act.
Christine's been having horrifying visions of the devil since she was a kid. This allows for several instances of computer animation, vile rape fantasies and a conversation with an albino demon who looks like a cross between Bob Marley and a dirty Zero candy bar.
Intercut with all this is Satan's journey into the body of an unfortunate man played by Gabriel Byrne. Every actress on a soap opera will tell you that it's fun to play a bitch, and every actor says it's fun to play the devil. So it's no surprise that Byrne is the only person in the movie who seems to be having a good time.
He doesn't go for broke the way Al Pacino did in "The Devil's Advocate" (1997), but he still gets to dress elegantly and make snide remarks about God and the nature of evil. It's clever in that obvious, winking kind of way that makes audience members feel smart, even when they're not.
Byrne's character, among many other odious things, gropes an unsuspecting woman at a restaurant, pins a dying man to the ceiling with a set of scalpels, has a threesome with a mother and her teen-age daughter, causes a skateboarder to get hit by a bus and stabs a crucifix into a priest's forehead. Joan Collins never got to do that.
As you can well imagine, there are multiple confrontations between Schwarzenegger and Byrne that lead to multiple bouts of special effects.
But the key redundancy is the endless, orgiastic displays of violence. People are stabbed. Women are assaulted. Vehicles explode. Arnold smashes a possessed old woman's head through a glass coffee table top, after which Byrne slowly sticks one of the shards into her neck to make sure she's dead. Tons of folks are shot and spew copious amounts of blood.
Screaming stigmatics are tied to their beds by a crew of uncaring priests, one of whom is played by Rod Steiger. The extremist cardinals attempt a ritual murder, on more than one occasion.
How something as rinky-dink as Kevin Smith's asinine "Dogma" can enrage church leaders while this thing slides by unnoticed qualifies as a brand new holy mystery.
"End of Days" is what passes for a "big" movie nowadays. It's impossible to stress how contemptible it is. As I've already noted, there are rapes, shootings, burnings, stabbings, gougings, beatings and a general disdain for human beings. You also get, of course, reams of bad language and unnecessary female nudity. It's no less offensive for being pure hokum. Look for German actor Udo Kier, who's apparently on hand to make Schwarzenegger seem like the king of precise diction. The funniest moment in the film is when Kier is forced to say "Xanax." Rated R. 158 minutes, because it's so plot-heavy.
Schwarzenegger film gives L.A. something it doesn't need
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