Thursday, April 23, 2015
SCHWARZENEGGER SWEEPS: End of Days (1999)
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.
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.
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.
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.
[THE SIGNS OF SCHWARZENEGGER: 3 outta 5]
[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