If there’s a single image from this film that will stick with me, it’s Kevin Pollak’s expression whenever he’s on screen. If he’d turned to camera, shaken his head in despair, and said “what am I doing in this movie?” it would have seemed almost entirely in character.
Now, I have nothing whatsoever against Arnold Schwartzenegger, but he’s not really an actor: he’s a Movie Star. Put him in a film that plays to his strengths, like True Lies, The Terminator or the much-maligned Kindergarten Cop, and he shines. Put him in a role that asks him to display a certain depth and range of emotion, like that of Jericho Cane, the tortured anti-hero of End Of Days, and he is little better than a plank. He can pull a suicidal grimace in the morning twilight of a shabby apartment, but as soon as he opens his mouth you just have to wince. His lines sound like he’s chewed them at least twice before choking, and regurgitating them–with difficulty.
Arnie himself is the first, and biggest mistake this film makes. Kevin Pollak, who plays Chicago, Arnie’s sidekick, knows it, and you can read it on his face in every scene they share. Almost any current male lead you can think of could have injected more realism into Jericho’s character. Christine York, played by Robin Tunney (whom you may remember as the not-evil one from The Craft) is the only character who seems to be able to take him seriously.
The second great flaw of the film is its script. Written by Andrew W. Marlowe, who did a fairly decent job on “Air Force One” a few years ago, it takes absolutely ages to go anywhere. The first forty-five minutes lazily set the scene: in the last days of 1999, the Devil takes the form of a man so that he can impregnate the chosen one (Christine), and thus bring about the “End Of Days.” Just how the end of the world will come about is never explained. Is a simple bout of demonic nookie enough to open the gates of Hell, or will we have to wait for the resulting offspring to wreak Damien-like havoc on us all? Who knows? Who cares?
After this has been set up, the rest of the film consists mostly of a lot of running around with all parties concerned trying to find and snatch Christine from each other. All the parties are:
(1) Jericho and Chicago, who work for a private security firm. They were on duty trying to protect a Wall Street Banker (whose body had been taken over by the Devil), when a rogue priest tried to assassinate him. Rather than just taking their danger bonus and letting the police handle things from there, they take it upon themselves to figure out what’s going on.
(2) The Devil, played by Gabriel Byrne with about as much menace as a pop tart.
(3) The Bad clergy, who want to kill Christine before she can have it off with the Devil.
(4) The Good clergy, led by Father Kovac (Rod Steiger), who want to take Christine in and protect her until the whole thing blows over.
Any story involving supernatural beings has to be careful in plausibly restricting the powers that these beings have access to. End of Days falls woefully short in this regard: the Devil can apparently possess any body at will, but he chooses one with no straightforward access to Christine. He can raise bodies from the dead, but he can’t force or torture Jericho into revealing Christine’s location. The Devil only gets this opportunity to destroy the world once every thousand years, so why didn’t he plan the whole thing out more carefully? Oh, well, better luck in 2999.
Believable, no. Exciting, not really. Tense, only occasionally. Humorous, yes, but unintentionally so. There are some decent special effects (the sex scene is eerily impressive), but with the bulk of the film shot in almost pitch darkness, it’s hard to pick them out. It’s got high production values, but that’s just not enough to save a film.
Director Peter Hyams can do, and has done, a lot better than this (Outland, Capricorn One and Running Scared are a couple of excellent examples), but on the other hand, his career is littered with some amazing turkeys (Stay Tuned and Sudden Death immediately spring to mind). Unfortunately, End Of Days belongs in the latter category.