End of Days

“God is the biggest underachiever of all time, it’s just he’s got a great publicist. God gets away every time. If something good happens, it’s his will. Something bad happens, He moves in mysterious ways. You take that overblown press kit they call the Bible, and what does it say? Shit happens.”

How come Kevin Smith didn’t think of writing this speech in his “Dogma”? Well, “End of Days” writer Andrew Marlowe did, and this is only one of the fun moments in what might be the last big Hollywood extravaganza of the millenium. Appropriately, the film takes place in the last few days of 1999, which gives the whole thing a strong feeling of urgency. The film supposes the turn to 2000 will also bring the end of days, and it supports itself with the Bible and the teachings of the catholic Church. It seems that every 1000 years, on the last hour of the milennium, Satan enters a human body and tries to mate with a chosen one. If He achieves to impregnate the young woman, it will be the end of our world, as Hell triumphs over Heaven. This time, the lucky gal is Christine York (Robin Tunney), a 20 year old girl unknowingly raised by satanists. She has horrific visions and dreams of the Man, but they more or less convince her that it’s all in her head. But now the Devil has taken the body of a Wall Street banker (Gabriel Byrne), and he’s on his way to claim her snatch. The Vatican is aware of the danger, but the Church is divided between extremists who want to kill the girl and pacifists who believe that the only way to overthrow pure evil is faith. The clock is ticking, and they start to worry whether God will bother to save them…

Mmm. Who in the world might stop the most poweful and evil creature ever to set foot on earth? Why, it’s Arnold Schwarzenegger! He stars as Jericho, a bitter ex-cop who became a fallen soul after the Mob murdered his wife and daughter. He’s now a hard-drinking, suicidal bodyguard with no faith left… The movie is about his struggle to retrieve grace by protecting the girl, defeating the Beast and saving the world. Admit that this is pretty different from what Arnold has done in the past. For the first time, we get to see him as a flawed, vulnerable man, and believe me or not, but he’s getting to be a decent actor. I actually bought his journey towards redemption. But if he sports a more rugged, aged look, Schwarzenegger is still a badass. Of course.

The film’s action scenes aren’t as awesome as they could be because director Peter Hyams doesn’t know how to shoot and edit them properly and the special effects aren’t exceptionnal. Still, with twentysomething years behind him directing not-too-bad sci-fi movies, Hyams manages to at least make a professionnal job, and Marlowe’s silly but gripping story and the solid performances do the rest. Hyams also directed the photography, and though it sometimes looks like low-rent David Fincher, the dark, moody feel of the film fits its themes. So do the use of catholic icons and the appropriately grandiose, Gregorian chant-flavored score, despite the annoying sound bytes of happening metal bands (Korn, Limp Bizkit…) thrown into it for no better reason but to justify a pop soundtrack. I also could have done without the tired horror cliches like the fake scares (ohmigod! it’s a… cat.). Fortunately, the films doesn’t fall too often in that, opting instead for cooler set-ups. There’s an helicopter chase, attacks from Vatican hitmen, a mob brawl, and mucho hellish mayhem. The action scenes aren’t mind-blowing like those of, say, “The Matrix”, but it’s still a whole lotta fun thanks to Arnold’s larger than life presence.

Because after all, Schwarzenegger movies aren’t as much about elaborate fights and explosions as they are about attitude. Some of his flicks are indeed brilliantly crafted (notably his collaborations with James Cameron), but what always truly turned me on is the unique Ah-nuld persona, ya know, the gigantic goon with balls the size of Gibraltar and a knack for uttering highly quotable one-liners in his colorful accent. Like, upon learning all the mumbo jumbo about the conception of the Antichrist in the last hour of the millenium, he asks “Is that Eastern time?” The girl offers him pills, and he retorts “Nah. I drink.” And my favorite is when he faces the Devil himself and tells Him “Ya think yoa’re baad? Yoa’re a choirboy naext to me!” Schwarzenegger is just irresistible on screen, and he’s matched by Gabriel Byrne’s highly enjoyable portrayal of a cynical, strangely compelling villain. The scene in which he taunts Arnold into selling him is soul is a gem; the two are great against each other.

“End of Days” is not a film for everyone. It’s a risky blend of supernatural thrills and silly macho chops, but it works. You just have to love Schwarzenegger and everything that comes with him, and you’ll have a blast. It ain’t as good as “Commando”, “Predator”, the “Terminator” flicks, “Total Recall” or “True Lies”, but it’s still a cool romp; this is no “Batman & Robin”. Don’t you miss it, the end of days only comes once!