Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Thursday, April 23, 2015


Sitting here in our lofty year of 2015, it’s easy to be dismissive of turn-of-the-millennia hysteria. By my count, we’ve survived at least three subsequent end of the world dates. At the time though, some people were really freaking out. It wasn’t just the new-agers and the religious crazies. The Y2K bug even had sane people worried. Not helping matters were movies like “End of Days,” seeking to capitalize on millennial anxieties. As a Schwarzenegger movie, “End of Days” is the first movie Arnold made following open heart surgery. It was the beginning of a low, third period in his career, following his eighties golden age and the experimental nineties years. His next few movies weren’t particularly successful, leading Arnold to consider a second career in politics.

In the days leading up to the end of 1999, the end of the millennia, some weird shit begins to happen in New York. Depressed cop Jericho Cane personally witnesses a mute priest, an attempted assassin, speak. A restaurant explodes suddenly. A man is pinned to a ceiling with knives, Latin carved onto his chest. Cane’s investigation leads him to a strange girl, Christine York, who has bizarre visions. Turns out, Christine is the predestined mate of Satan. If Lucifer, inhabitant the body of a man, sleeps with the girl before the strike of midnight on December 31st, she will give birth to the Antichrist and begin the end of days. Now Jericho has to overcome his own crisis of faith, protect Christine from various attackers, and cock block the devil.

By 1999, the type of heroes Schwarzenegger usually played were no longer in vogue. Audiences could no longer buy the hyper-macho, hyper-violent hero who, despite killing lots of people, maintained the moral high ground. So in “End of Days,” the superstar played a part he hadn’t attempted in a long time: The grizzled anti-hero. Jericho Cane is introduced putting a gun to his head. He’s an alcoholic with a bad case of perma-stubble. The cause of his depression is the death of his wife and children, murdered by home invaders. So Arnold is grouchy throughout the entire film. He’s ill-tempered, violent, vulgar, and frequently hungover. The movie also has Arnold attempting something he doesn’t usually do: Emoting. Jericho is a troubled man and even cries at one point. Arnold does better then you’d expected. Mostly though, he just seems tired and angry.

Also, he’s playing Jesus. Okay, not really. However, Jericho Cane is one in a long line of self-sacrificing genre heroes whose initials are pointedly “J.C.” That’s right, “self-sacrificing.” Spoiler alert for a 15 year old movie: Arnold kills himself at the end of the film, choosing to die in order to drive Satan out and save the day. In case you didn’t get the reference, the movie even crucifies Arnold. Cane has nails hammered into his body and is strung up on an iron cross in an alley way. Not helping matters: "Jericho" and "Caine" are obvious religious references too. I have no problem with Arnold ending the movie dead. It’s a natural move for the screenplay. The Christ metaphor stuff seems really thrown in though. Caine spends the whole movie doubting the existence of God. Not exactly the most Christ-like move. Also, I don’t think Jesus ever blew devil worshipers away with a grenade launcher. It’s almost as if the movie just included it because “End of Days” is a quasi-religious story, whether or not it made any sense.

From a story perspective, “End of Days” is an awkward fusion of detective movie, conspiracy thriller, action flick, and religious horror film. The detective and conspiracy elements aren’t successful at all. A brief prologue explains the movie’s mythology, giving the audience a good idea of where this is all going. Despite this, it still takes the characters a half-hour to deduce what is happening. Arnold is many things but an effective sleuth isn’t one of them. An awkward subplot involves an order of priest sent to kill the girl. That would have saved everyone a lot of trouble, wouldn’t it? But, no, Arnold has to fight these guys too, choosing to protect the girl, even if it imperils the world. Sadly, “End of Days” isn’t that good of a horror movie either. The film’s attempts at horrific imagery are fairly flaccid. An old lady sprouts claws at one point. A creepy albino shatters like he’s made of glass. Characters are tossed into the air by invisible forces. Satan has sex with two women at once, their bodies fusing into one. The finale has the devil briefly appearing as a giant, CGI bat-monster. None of this is scary. It’s not even especially amusing from a trashy, gory perspective. The movie even throws in that old chestnut of a cat jumping out from behind a door.

About the only time the horrific, religious themes work at all is when Jericho and the Devil come face-to-face. There’s a lengthy sequence in the middle of the film where Satan appears in Caine’s apartment. He tempts the hero directly. He offers to give him a reality where his wife and child never died. We see the events of their murder. Arnold is in the room but is unable to touch or interact with anyone. It’s a fairly melodramatic scene. However, it’s strangely fascinating to watch. Maybe it’s just because Arnold is yelling profanity at Satan the whole time. It’s easy to imagine a better version of “End of Days” focusing on this struggle. “The Last Temptation of Schwarzenegger,” if you will. The real climax of the film is when Caine regains his faith, praying to God for help just as the devil is about to swoop in. It’s the best bit of acting from Arnold in the movie – Seriously! – and is the only time the film’s religious themes seem sincere.

In the last third, after successfully surviving crucifixion, Jericho takes the fight to the Satanists. Armed with a crap load of big guns, he storms into the cult’s evil, underground lair. This is when “End of Days” really begins to feel like a Schwarzenegger movie. He’s blowing away hooded cultists with a machine gun, working his way through the crowd. He explodes their evil church with the aforementioned grenade launcher. The most delirious moment in the film, and therefore the most entertaining, is Jericho confronting the devil on a subway train. Running with the girl in hand, the two are pursued through a running train. They unhook the train cars, causing Arnold to do a melodramatic dive between the two moving cars. Finally, he blasts Satan with a rocket, sending him flying into the opposite train car, exploding gloriously. The movie continues on for a few more minute but this is the proper conclusion. It’s not “Commando.” It’s not even “Eraser.” But it’s dumb fun in its own right.

The one other major mark in the pros column is Gabriel Bryne. In a part Willem DaFoe surely would have played a few years later, Bryne decimates the scenery, chewing it all up. He villainously preens, growls, and hisses, packing in as much campy, Satanic glee as possible. Apparently, Udo Kier was originally supposed to play the devil. That would have been amazing but maybe mainstream audiences weren’t ready for full Udo. Instead, Kier plays a perverse priest and does well in the part. A wildly overqualified Rod Steiger, in one of his last roles, plays a good priest. Steiger is underserved, mostly delivering flat exposition. CCH Pounder gets to be a little villainous, after her police officer is possessed. Kevin Pollak, as Jericho’s BFF Bobby, is also occasionally amusing. At the very least, he has a good rapport with Arnold.

In conclusion, “End of Days” is a bit of a slog. It’s rather glum, lacking the humor that characterizes most of Schwarzenegger’s career. The screenplay is awfully messy, taking way too long to get to the point. It fails as a horror film and a thriller. By the time we get to the good stuff, Arnold gunning down hordes of foes, it’s a bit too little, too late. It’s mostly worth checking out if you want to see Arnold in a serious mood or an overly hammy Gabriel Bryne. Ultimately, a movie with the log line of “Schwarzenegger vs. Satan!” should have been a lot more entertaining. [5/10]

[X] Performs Ridiculous Feat(s) of Strength
[] Says, “I’ll be back.”
[] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Unnecessarily Violent Opponent Dispatch
[X] Wields A Big Gun or Sword With One Arm

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