End of Days (1999)

reviewed by
Steve Rhodes

A film review by Steve Rhodes
Copyright 1999 Steve Rhodes
RATING (0 TO ****):  *

"There are forces at work here that you couldn't possibly understand!" Father Kovak (Rod Steiger) loudly lectures Jericho Cane (Arnold Schwarzenegger). No kidding!

And I thought STIGMATA was bad. Peter Hyams's over-the-top END OF DAYS can best be thought of as STIGMATA's evil twin.

The story starts in 1979, as the Pope and his Cardinals are arguing over a girl who will be born shortly at some unknown location in the world. Most of the Cardinals want to find and kill her, but they are temporarily overruled by the Holy Father, who wants instead to find and protect her.

Cutting to New York City, we see her birth, after which servants of the devil whisk the baby away. Graphically slicing open a live rattlesnake, they sprinkle its blood over the baby, and they have the baby drink the blood. Unfortunately, this is one of the more subtle scenes in a movie that doesn't know when to stop. But we'll get to its excesses in a minute. Suffice it to say that if members of the Catholic Church feel that they have to picket a movie, this is the one to go for, not DOGMA, which has been unjustly maligned.

The story quickly skips ahead two decades. It's now three days before the millennium.

Yes, this is a millennium film. Think about it. Writer Andrew W. Marlowe had the opportunity of a lifetime, and the best that he could come up with is a hackneyed story about the Antichrist and the end of the world. (For what could be done with a more intelligent approach, see the recent and wonderfully imaginative character study, Don McKellar's LAST NIGHT, about the world's end.)

I will not tell you the intricacies of the plot so that you can laugh at it as I did. The only thing that makes the movie even partially bearable is the humor, most of it unintentional. In an intelligent but all too brief performance, Kevin Pollak plays Jericho's sidekick, Chicago. He also delivers most of the truly funny lines. His best comes after a bad experience with the forces of evil. "Well, it's official," Chicago informs Jericho. "I'm not sleeping again." For all of its gore -- and there's lots of it -- the movie isn't the least bit frightening. It is, however, frequently gross and disgusting, not to mention sacrilegious and amoral. But, the movie tries to argue that "the devil made me do it." Its excesses, you see, aren't its fault. It's just trying to depict evil.

Along with the baby and the blood scene, the movie has other satanical delights. One mother commits incest with her daughter as they both lay naked in bed. The devil is there too you see, and he made them do it. A bunch of priests keep trying to kill the innocent girl, Christine York (Robin Tunney), with whom the devil has chosen to mate. As they rattle off the Last Rites, they try to murder her first in her own bed and later by the altar in church. Again, it's not their fault, they are killing to defeat the devil, played in a shockingly bad performance by Gabriel Byrne. (The devil likes to mock God, as when he refers to the Bible as "an overblown press kit." The cheesy dialog will have you shaking your head.)

Wasting over a hundred million dollars, the director calls for lots of explosions and special effect after special effect for no reason other than the studio gave him too much money. Moviegoers who count their enjoyment by the boom will be satisfied; others will be disappointed and exhausted by it all. The film relentlessly beats you over the head with the material. Only when it gets so ridiculous that it causes the audience to laugh out loud does it break the tedium.

Arnold, Arnold, Arnold, what were you thinking when you signed on to do this? Even if it has enough violence and gore to attract large audiences, you are better than this.

"How do you expect to defeat me when you are but a man, and I am forever?" Satan taunts Jericho. The ending, of course, is never really in doubt, no matter how much bluster the devil manages. After all, he's up against a superstar. And in the end, the story finds its own redemption, arguing that it had deeply religious intentions all along. Making audiences believe this will take a real miracle.

END OF DAYS runs 1:55. It is rated R for intense violence and gore, a strong sex scene and language and would not be acceptable for those under 17 or 18.

Email: Steve.Rhodes@InternetReviews.com Web: http://www.InternetReviews.com

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