of Days (1999, dir: Peter Hyams; cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger,
Gabriel Byrne, Robin Tunney, Kevin Pollak, CCH Pounder, Udo Kier)
much a horror film as an action thriller with horror icons, End
of Days is yet another Lethal
Hard variation. A buddy cop movie with the ultimate villain:
not high-concept enough, here's another twist: the buddy cops (actually,
buddy bodyguards) are assigned to protect a prominent Wall Street yuppie
from assassins. But unbeknownst to them, their charge is Satan in
human form, and the assassins are a hit team from the Catholic Church. So the bodyguard heroes are inadvertently defending Satan against holy
of Days is paint-by-numbers excellent. Nothing extraordinary,
but replete with Hollywood's usual first-rate production values, inventive
stunts, extravagant explosions, and breathless high-speed chases. Thrilling while it lasts, forgettable when it's over.
does flirt with some appropriate supernatural horror themes. Arnold
Schwarzenegger is Jericho Cane (two Biblical names in one, neither clearly
symbolic of anything; nor any reason for the spelling). Cane was
once a good cop. Then he testified against the mob, and the mob killed
his wife and daughter. Cane did his duty, playing by the rules. But where was the NYPD for Cane's family? Where was God?
to bear the guilt, Cane quit the NYPD and went private. He's lost
his Faith, in both the system and in God. When we first see him,
he's contemplating suicide.
Byrne (a priest in Stigmata,
also 1999) is Satan, made flesh to impregnate the unwilling Christine York
(Robin Tunney, The
Craft). This must occur the hour before the Millennium,
AD 2000, because ... well, just because. Naturally, York will then
give birth to the Antichrist.
critic pointlessly sneered that Satan should know the Millennium wasn't
until 2001. I'm sure he did. I'm sure the ENTIRE PLANET knew
the Millennium wasn't until 2001, seeing as how EVERYONE was informing
EVERYONE else of that irrelevant factoid throughout the latter half of
But although End
of Days features horror icons and themes, its story is structured
as an actioner. When Cane realizes his employer is Satan, he turns
his security skills to abducting and protecting York. Still lacking
faith (despite witnessing Satan's powers), Cane rejects assistance from
the Catholic church, preferring to battle Satan with testosterone-charged
one may expect, the Prince of Darkness is indestructible, even more so
than the metallic terminator in T2:
Judgment Day. No matter how often Cane shoots, burns,
and bloodies Satan, he'll be back. It's lowbrow, comic book entertainment. No cerebral horror. Nothing atmospheric or profound or chilling.
punch a minion so hard, his fist exits the back of the man's skull! See Satan hurtled down a subway car, knocking out poles like bowling pins! See the subway car crash and collapse, the heroes racing down the car as
it folds up accordion-like behind them! See Arnold dangling from
a helicopter as it speeds after an elderly priest/assassin, the priest
plummeting several stories, crashing through a glass awning, then arising
and racing down the street with Arnold in hot pursuit!
In both T2 and End
of Days, Arnold protects a naif from an indestructible, relentless
killer. Imagine T2's
terminator having a supernatural, rather than a scientific, rationale,
and you'll get a flavor for End
from his name, there's some religious symbolism when Satan crucifies Cane. Here, Satan commits the silly mistake of many supervillains: allowing the
hero to live so he may suffer a slow death, hear the villain's diabolical
plans, and fully realize his defeat at the hands of the brilliant villain. Of course, this allows Arnold a chance to escape...
of Days resembles director Peter Hyams's previous horror film, The
Relic (1997). Fast-paced action, much gore, little atmosphere,
style, or darkness. Still, Hyams's characters have grown. Arnold
is a better actor than he's usually given credit for. Cane is a standard
buddy cop cliché, almost to the point of parody, yet Arnold infuses
Cane with depth and sympathy.
the stand-out performance comes from Gabriel Byrne. His role is written
as pure evil, a Satan without doubts, ambiguity, or sympathy. Yet
Byrne's Satan projects nuances, while always maintaining an evil core. His Satan is one-dimensional, yet deep. That sounds contradictory,
but it isn't. His Satan's evil is remorseless, undeviating, and unhesitating. Pure evil. But an evil coated with superficial, yet brilliant, veneers.
dressed in hip yuppie black, Byrne's Satan exhibits casual cruelty to his
loyal acolytes, a simmering vindictiveness, and a sense of frustrated entitlement
over losing Heaven. Sometimes cool, even playful, then lashing out
with lethal savagery. His warmth and sympathy are almost convincing
as he tempts Cane with the return of his family. Satan's arguments
are reasonable, his mannerisms gentle. Yet always, however vaguely,
we perceive the evil and deceit beneath whatever veneer he wears.
caveat. As in many films, the Catholic Church turns out to harbor
a secret Order. In this case, a renegade faction of priests trained
over the centuries to identify and halt the coming Antichrist. Either
by killing Satan's mortal form -- or by killing the innocent mother-to-be
of the Antichrist (York). Naturally, Arnold pulverizes these priests
in his attempts to save York.
realize the Catholic Church has a near-monopoly on Antichrist films. But I doubt all religions would have had their clergy brutalized with such
flippant glee. I'm not saying don't portray evil priests. I
just wish the nasty cinematic portrayals could be spread a little more
evenly across all faiths.
to judge End
of Days because: What standards does one apply? Do we
measure it against actioners or horror? It's a first-rate action
film. But as horror, it lacks the innovative style or thought-provoking
profundity of Rosemary's
Exorcist, or Lost Souls. Gabriel Byrne is a noteworthy Satan. Arnold is a fine action hero. His buddy, Kevin Pollak, is decent but forgettable. Likewise, Robin
Tunney. Udo Kier has a briefly interesting role as a Satanic minion.
As a horror
of Days is adequate, but no more. Its chief pleasures
derive from its stunts and pyrotechnics.
Review copyright by Thomas
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