END OF DAYS
STARRING: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kevin Pollak, Gabriel Byrne, Robin Tunney, Rod Steiger, CCH Pounder DIRECTOR: Peter Hyams (The Relic, The Presidio) WRITTEN BY: Andrew W. Marlowe (Air Force One)
Once upon a time in the summer of 1987, in the small town of Spruce Grove, my friend and I sat in my parents' car outside the local movie theater, trying to think of a way to get in to see Predator, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. You see, we were only 16-- not old enough to get into the R-rated picture, but certainly old enough to want to. Very, very badly. So there we sat, feverishly thinking of ways to overcome every possible objection the person at the ticket booth might raise to our getting in. After almost an hour of this, we were finally ready to try it. The much-feared counter clerk barely gave us a glance as he sold us our coveted tickets. What followed was some of the coolest shit I had ever seen in a movie. When it ended I was pretty sure that, given enough weaponry, Schwarzenegger would kick even the Devil's ass but good. All of which brings me to End of Days, and the point of this little anecdote. Apparently, 16-year-old boys are greenlighting films these days.
The film casts the Austrian Oak as Jericho Cane, a security specialist who stumbles upon a conspiracy of Biblical proportions after foiling an assassination attempt on his investment-banker client. It seems that every thousand years, Satan puts in an appearance on Earth in human guise (the investment banker is this year's host), seeking a predestined mate. If he is allowed to consummate his unholy union, the gates of Hell will be thrown open, and so on and so forth. Naturally, Jericho has to find and protect the prospective bedmate not only from Satan, but also from religious zealots who want to prevent the prophecy by killing her. Furthermore, he has to do it without the help of the police, because they're all in thrall to the Devil. Hey, waitaminnit... that means it's Schwarzenegger vs. Lucifer, one-on-one! Arnold has plenty of military hardware, but the Devil has extremely explosive piss. While this may have made for a funny episode of South Park, the laughs in End of Days are strictly unintentional..
About a third of the way into this hokum, it becomes increasingly clear that Hyams' solution when the nonsensical story starts to drag is to either show tit or blow something up. I started wishing I was elsewhere. At the two-thirds mark, I was trying to figure out where I'd seen baby-faced actress Tunney before (it was in 1996's The Craft.) By the time the credits mercifully rolled, I found myself wondering how someone with the offscreen business savvy and intelligence of Schwarzenegger could have been talked into doing this lamentable picture. Not since Commando has his peculiar brand of acting been so unwatchable. Normally, his self-effacing sense of humor pulls him through, but all his half-hearted attempts at wisecracks fall horribly flat this time. Pollak, saddled with a poor man's version of Tom Arnold's True Lies role as the regular-guy buddy, isn't much better off. Even Byrne, who could have made much of his diabolical role with a decent script, is reduced to ogling women and smirking a lot as proof of his character's ultimate evil. Much of the dialogue is unforgivable; I actually groaned out loud during one particularly idiotic interlude in which Jericho is tempted by Satan (as if the unsubtle initials weren't enough.) Eventually, the obligatory climactic effects blowout arrives, and we get to see the Devil in the flesh, so to speak. Like everything else that happens in the movie, it's a letdown, a bit of unconvincing computer-generated silliness lifted out of some mindless videogame.
As a longtime Schwarzenegger fan, I hope the man realizes that the title of this miserable failure of a movie also applies to his tenure as an iconic action hero. At 54, he's still in incredible shape, but he's older nonetheless, and so are the teenagers who once elevated him to box-office champion status. If he is to remain relevant in the Hollywood of the 21st century, he'll have to find a Clint Eastwood-esque way to segue gracefully into a new identity.
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