HAPPY NEW YEAR PEEPS! My friends, get used to using the time stamp ‘2015.’ Because it is a brand new year, I think it’s definitely time for TBT to stage a comeback. I’m finally feeling refreshed on this thread, and I have quite a ridiculous number to blabber on about today. What’s tall, strong and rhymes with Fwarzenegger? That’s right, the star of
Today’s food for thought: End of Days.
Haunting viewers half-assedly since: November 24, 1999
Schwarzenegger. Satan. Squaring off at the turn of the millennium.
Sounds great, right? And I mean, really, how much blame can one put on me for thinking the idea might lead to a pretty sweet movie way back when? (When was that ‘when?’ Let’s just go with whenever.) Well last night I discovered, amidst a haze of
celebratory hellfire-and-brimstone smoke, that I had approximately 120 minutes’ worth of blame to assign myself for thinking that this lame supernatural thriller from Peter Hyams could cut the mustard.
Well that mustard must have been thick, or the un-cuttable kind, because that so didn’t happen. For a movie set at the height of anti-tech-based fear-mongering before the year 2000, this bloated production feels more obligatory than optional. Insipid instead of inspired. End of Days, despite a suitably ominous opening title sequence, winds up as a rather flaccid, albeit topical, film that yields very little in the way of scares and even less in terms of convincing performances. We’re surely not going to look to the big guy (for clarification, I mean Arnie) for the acting chops — he’s not exactly going to seduce the devil with a rousing performance independent of those spectacular pectorals. But if anyone else involved could have at least pretended that they looked at a script before signing on, that wouldn’t have been the worst sin committed that year.
Arnie can get away with looking more morose than he ever has because we wouldn’t want it any other way. Not when the Spawn of Satan is threatening to share potential screen time with him. The stakes have got to be high. So Arnie does. Tattered and torn by a past that still haunts him, Jericho Cane currently bides his time as an operative of a high-tech security team after throwing in the towel with the NYPD. The similarly jaded Bobby Chicago (I’m not making these names up), played by Kevin Pollak, functions more as a shadow and less of an independent character. He is plotted along a thoroughly predictable and entirely unoriginal character arc that only serves to contribute to a deep pool of genre cliches that gains great depth towards the end. Standing side-by-side with Jericho in a vast majority of scenes, he offers moral support for a man clearly in psychological peril. Jericho is a man who doesn’t believe in God anymore, but he better get his shit together quickly if he’s to save the world — more importantly, the party in Times Square — from what the title of this movie suggests.
On the last day of the first 1,000 years, it is said that the “ultimate personification of evil” shall rise and roam the Earth, searching for a lover to help create his offspring with. The consummation would in effect bring about the apocalypse. For all of this to work, the demon spirit will inhabit a human body to disguise itself until such an opportunity finally presents itself. Enter Gabriel Byrne, who has a hell of a time exercising his satanic side (though Al Pacino’s John Milton would like to have a sit-down with him as to how to properly effect unease in another without having to go full-on nutso). At least Byrne is one of a few involved who seems to be able to maintain the illusion he’s not dismayed by such an amateurish script. In End of Days, even Satan is predictable and boring.
I’m going to suggest something now that might read a little weird, but . . . shouldn’t Satan be precisely the opposite? Byrne tries mightily, but it’s to little avail. Every major moment his angry little man has recalls a much more inspired one Pacino had when interacting with Keanu Reeve’s heavily conflicted Kevin Lomax. It is a little unfair to make these comparisons but when it’s been done so much better only a couple years prior the inevitability is hard to fend off. However, where Byrne isn’t provided the story structure (and character development) required to provocatively suggest his supernatural power, he is given opportunity aplenty to graphically display his volatility.
End of Days makes sure to fulfill a certain quota. Blood and gore should garner nominations for their collective performance, attempting to cover up the film’s surfeit of shortcomings through sheer shock value. Outside of being paced like a snail, unnecessarily ambitious and poorly acted — with Robin Tunney at the center of that discussion — this is an often jarringly violent slog but at least the smatterings of bloodletting shock us into consciousness every now and again. They remind us of a story that is actually developing, but developing at such a languid pace it doesn’t really matter.
At the end of the day, Hyams’ film just isn’t very competent. I don’t mind (or much remember from the first viewing) the rehashing of elements from superior films in its genre, nor the laughably bad dialogue. Far more offensive is the fact it fails to develop any of its characters, or to even give much of a reason for anyone to do anything. I can get over the fact that Arnie haphazardly becomes the target of The Man in his apartment one evening. Hey, should you choose to spurn Satan’s advances he will become understandably pissed. I am even willing to overlook the inherent ridiculousness in early CGI rendering — with one sexually-charged scene coming to mind that seems destined to land on worst-shot scenes of the 20th Century — because, after all, this was before we knew it was ridiculous to think the world would cease to be after midnight on that night.
It’s a good thing that never happened, else I wouldn’t be able to continue enjoying my Arnie films like I have. His films haven’t really improved much but I frequently find myself enjoying them more freely than I was able to here. The lowering of one’s own standards is really put to the test in End of Days; that’s if you’re a fan of Mr. Universe butting heads with the Lord of Darkness in Times Square.
Recommendation: Frustratingly End of Days squanders its promise of delivering a taut and thrilling, action-packed story by meandering into too many genre cliches in an attempt to give color to a rather colorless environment. It features a likable enough cast who surprisingly show up for work without having really read any of their parts, save for Gabriel Byrne who is quite fun. Save this film as a last-resort option if you are in the spirit for watching New Year’s Eve-centered stories. This isn’t anywhere near as good as I once had remembered it being. Whoops.
Running Time: 121 mins.
TBTrivia: The role of Jericho is the first bit of work Mr. Schwarzenegger was able to get after receiving heart surgery following his role as Mr. Freeze in Batman & Robin, two years prior. The actor had supreme difficulty finding studios willing to hire him in a “weak” state and it took a few days of shooting End of Days before insurance agents and studio execs finally backed away from the set, satisfied enough that Arnold was indeed healthy enough to shoot action sequences once again.
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