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Arnold Schwarzenegger's new action vehicle End of Days seemed like it went on for days. The mindless thriller - Arnie's first in two years - takes place during the final four days of the upcoming millennium and feels like it was shot in real-time. The premise is that Satan needs to impregnate a `chosen' female before the clock strikes 12 in order to be released from his prison. They didn't specifically say it, but I think the prison may be Joliet.
The opening credits utilize every bad religious cliché they could dig up – fire, snakes, spooky singing and Arabic text. The film kicks off in 1979 Vatican City, Rome, where an astrological event known as `The Eye of God' is seen by an underling of the Pope. The presence of the `Eye' means that somewhere in the world, a girl is to be born that will, in twenty years' time, be impregnated by Satan. The Pontiff dispatches men to find the girl (yeah, right) and keep her from evil for a couple of decades. Sounds reasonable, right? Six hours later, the `chosen' infant girl is born in New York City, the evilest place in the world in 1979.
Flash to present-day (December 28, 1999, to be exact) where Satan returns to Earth, taking over the body of a Wall Street banker (Gabriel Byrne, who just played a priest in Stigmata) in the men's room of a posh NYC eatery. Despite his new form (and his invincibility), Satan still feels the need to hire protection services to venture around the Big Apple. Enter Jericho Cane (Schwarzenegger, Batman & Robin) a drunk ex-cop (isn't Bruce Willis supposed to get these roles?) with a funny sidekick called Chicago (Kevin Pollak, She's All That). They both have great names, but each pales in comparison to Satan.
The `chosen' girl (Robin Tunney, Niagara, Niagara), now twenty, doesn't show up until thirty minutes into the film. Her name is Christine York (get it – Christ-ine?). Both of her parents are dead and she's been having strange visions for most of her life and, as a result, pops pills and sees a shrink (Udo Kier, Blade). As a side note, if your therapist looks like Udo Kier – run for your life. One of the visions involves a creepy cross-eyed subway freak that tells her, `He's coming, and he's going to f--- you!' before shattering like a frozen Robert Patrick in T2. Why this person has not yet been cast in a Harmony Korine film is beyond me.
One of the catches in Satan's plan is that he has to conceive between 11:00 PM and 12:00 AM on New Year's Eve. What are the odds that she is even ovulating at that time? Arnie even gets off a great line, rhetorically asking if Satan's plot is designed around Eastern Standard Time. The writers laugh it off with some quick blurb about Gregorian calendars being created for this very reason. Plus, you've gotta figure that Satan really needs to start working on the girl at around 11:40 at the latest. He seems like the kind of guy who likes to sweet-talk the ladies. I figure ten minutes of foreplay, five for the actual `act,' and then five minutes of cuddle-time.
End of Days does have a few cool visuals (from special effects wiz Stan Winston) and one legitimately scary scene, but that was lifted from Se7en (and Kevin Spacey was a much scarier villain than the Devil, anyway). Speaking of Spacey, they also lifted his `Satan's greatest trick was convincing the world he didn't exist' line from The Usual Suspects. Satan's giant head of fire (an effect ruined by the trailer) is cool, but we've already seen it in The Mummy (and it wasn't that great to begin with). Also disappointing was Satan's non-human form which, when revealed at the end, seemed a lot like Buffy's principal in the season finale last season. The pre-sold `modern rock' soundtrack was all but missing from the film.
Directed by Peter Hyams (The Relic) and written by Andrew W. Marlowe (Air Force One), Days features an incredibly hammy performance by Schwarzenegger, who, in one scene, even gets to cry when he thinks about Jericho's dead wife and kid. Tunney, who was so good in Niagara, Niagara, seems both badly lost and miscast. Going from indie pics like Niagara and Julian Po to a Schwarzenegger film doesn't seem like a logical jump at all. Plus, she has one of the most unnecessary nude scenes in recent memory – goodbye, credibility! Byrne chews the scenery as the Horned One, who, we learn, is able to piss gasoline. Rod Steiger (Crazy in Alabama) plays a puffy priest that would rather rely on faith to save Christine, while some of his churchie cohorts would just as soon kill her to put an end to the whole saga.
But, seriously, how much faith can you put into a film that doesn't reveal the name of its main character until ninety minutes in? (Christine says his name at this point, which is the first time we hear it.) And speaking of faith, where the Christ is the good guy in all of this? Yeah, I'm talking about the big `G.' Can't we rely on him to give us a hand when Satan plans on turning our sphere into Hell on Earth? He was a no-show. A non-factor. You can kiss your tithe goodbye, Ms. Morrissette.
2:00 - R for intense violence and gore, a strong sex scene, nudity and adult language
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