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“This is the way the world ends,” T.S. Eliot wrote, “Not with a—” OMIGOD IT’S A GIANT FIREBALL! AAAGGGHHH!!!
Andrew W. Marlowe is no Eliot, but what were T.S.’s receipts like last weekend? Marlowe is the writer behind End of Days, a rollicking, excessively bloody, violent, and pornographically entertaining piece of millennialist action trash that starts big and ends big, having stayed big all the way through, just like its more-massive-than-ever star, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Anyone actually expecting the rapture this New Year’s Eve will be convinced otherwise after getting a load of this ridiculous plot. Or convinced that God has taken some screenwriting courses. Schwarzenegger plays a fallen ex-cop named Jericho who has worked as a freelance bodyguard—more like a good-guy hit man—since his wife and daughter were executed by the criminals against whom he was about to testify years before. Jericho drinks too much and thinks too much, but he knows his firepower, and his scruffy wisecracking partner (Kevin Pollak) always pulls him back from the brink. As the countdown to the year 2000 approaches, Satan arrives via the sewer system and does what everyone does after landing in New York City—makes for the rest room. There, he shrugs on the body of a Wall Street investor (Gabriel Byrne) and prepares to take his prize—a night of hot satanic love with the chosen bearer of the Antichrist, Christine York (Robin Tunney). And the millennial smackdown is on; it’s one faithless, heart-scarred cop against the temptations of the ultimate evil.
Director Peter Hyams knows a warhorse when he sees one, so in order to keep the audience from second-guessing too much of the action, he throws in hundreds of jump-out-of-your-seat shocks and keeps the fireballs rolling your way. At some demented level, the script’s vision of apocalypse—orange, fiery—and the fear thereof is a sort of sober corrective to all the mindless fun folks intend to have in Times Square, although making a work of mindless fun to hammer that point home is, shall we say, as misguided as it is good-spirited. But subway posters ask “NYC 2000: Where Will You Be?” as if “In church” is a reasonable answer, and anyone planning to get splifficated and kiss strangers is viewed as not taking the changeover seriously enough.
Which is cute, considering that it assumes that neither rapturists nor Satan himself can count—”Every 1,000 years on the eve of the millennium…” Jericho reads—but the script throws in some twaddle about 666 being 999 in a Satanic camera obscura. Whatever…Jericho is called out to protect the Wall Street guy, not knowing that the devil has borrowed the guy’s mortal coil, and finds the assassin to be a disheveled ex-priest named—get this—Thomas Aquinas, who speaks about the end of days even though he’s taken the precaution of cutting his own tongue out with pruning shears. Preposterous? You betcha, but you do get to hear Arnold say to a roomful of priests, “I want to talk to you about Thomas Aquinas”—which, alone, is worth the price of admission.
Christine is the target of both a Roman Catholic splinter group set on killing her and the sizable earthly population of Satanists who mean to save her for Mr. Right. She’s raised in a swank mansion by the devil’s minions, including Udo Kier, the Eurotrash Ernest Borgnine, in his lip-lickingest role yet. For some reason, Satan is slowed down by mortal bullets, so in a bizarre Biblical reprise of Terminator 2, Arnold keeps firing at the guy and the guy keeps reassembling his blasted pieces and striding menacingly out of one firestorm after another. Satan has his own tricks—he can kill people with his piss (must be a guy thing), and he exacts a vengeance against Aquinas that Hannibal Lecter, the originator of this particular configuration of corpse, would applaud.
Christ imagery is all over the movie, which is largely otherwise Christ-free, if you don’t count Arnold. Considering the devil’s motive, End of Days is relatively free of the hateful misogynistic mortification many movies attribute to Satan’s would-be bride; there’s some talk of how much Christine wants it, but it gets lost amid the flames. All the masochism goes to Jericho, who’s “crucified” for a while (when will filmmakers figure out where the wounds on the hands go?) and who sacrifices mightily so that we may party like it’s 1999. There’s something touching about watching Schwarzenegger chomp through this role—he plays the bitter, bantering, ambivalent veteran with appealing veracity. Like any movie about Satan’s dabbling in human affairs and meeting a surprisingly powerful mortal adversary, End of Days suffers from pomposity and that speech about how God isn’t listening but I can fulfill your desires. Still, it’s as much fun as Devil’s Advocate, and very similar, too. After all, Keanu Reeves is the Arnold Schwarzenegger of…something. CP