Universal // 1999 // 123 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // August 26th, 2008
The end is near.
"Between your faith and my Glock nine millimeter, I'll take my Glock."
Jericho Cane (Arnold Schwarzenegger, Total Recall) is a private security guard who struggles with depression. Jericho's wife and daughter were violently murdered a few years ago, and Jericho has turned to alcohol. He feels alone in the world. The year 2000 is fast approaching, and people are preparing for a big Y2K celebration, but Jericho could care less. His job has taken him into some dangerous places lately, but he's not really worried about death at this point. Some days he wants to die.
In other news, Satan is in town! Old Scratch inhabits the body of an unsuspecting restaurant patron (Gabriel Byrne, Miller's Crossing) and goes on a bloody rampage. Satan is looking for a 20-year-old girl named Christine (Robin Tunney, Prison Break), whose body has been perfectly configured, for, uh...Satanic breeding purposes. Christine doesn't know anything about this; she's just an innocent young woman who doesn't understand why she keeps having strange dreams with demonic images. Anyway, Satan is feeling an urge to make love with her. If he can accomplish his lustful goal, he'll be allowed to open the gates of hell and take over the world. Just go with it.
Satan begins his march toward Christine, killing and torturing anyone who gets in his way. The devil may be one bad dude, but he didn't count on Jericho Cane. Jericho doesn't want Satan to take over the world, and he's gonna pull out the big guns in order to stop it. A crucifix and some holy water may not work against Lucifer...but what about a machine gun? It's time to kick some unholy butt!
I'm kind of fond of movies like this. Spiritual horror/thrillers like The Omen, The Devil's Advocate, and Constantine all suffer from extreme levels of silliness and logic problems, but I frequently find them to be engaging and enjoyable. It's fun to watch a Hollywood movie grab a sizable chunk of Biblical theology and rework it to fit the needs of a well-worn cinematic formula. In this case, there's a greater emphasis on action. This is an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, so lots of gunfire is required. The movie is quite entertaining in its ability to turn almost any situation into an explosion of some sort.
Can Satan be killed with bullets? I don't think so, and the movie seems to agree. There is a scene in which Arnold shoots Byrne a few times. Byrne shrugs, lifts up his shirt, and shows the bullet wounds healing almost immediately. Okay, so bullets are more or less worthless, right? Arnold doesn't seem to think so. He just keeps shooting. When that doesn't work, he grabs some rocket launchers. These knock the devil across the room, but they don't kill him. However, it takes Satan a little longer to recover from the rocket launchers. If bullets barely register, and if rocket launchers knock him across the room, could Arnold destroy Satan by nuking him? This movie never tells us, but it's a fun concept to think about.
Of course the film involves a lot of Catholic priests. Catholics are required for a film like this; they have all the rituals, symbols, and cool costumes. When you need a scene featuring religious folks talking about the dangers of Satan, you go to the Vatican, not the Southern Baptist Convention. The Pope is presented as a kind and reasonable man here. He suggests that everyone should just have faith and trust that Arnold will save the day. There are other priests who disagree. They think that Christine must be killed, thus preventing the devil from being able to plant his seed in her. That's an interesting theory, but this film seems to refute it. There is a scene in which Satan brings a dead person back to life. If the misguided priests killed her, couldn't Satan just resurrect her and get on with his business?
Oh, I'm not done. Satan has inhabited the body of Gabriel Byrne because that body has been specifically chosen for copulating with Christine. The devil is orchestrating things, but these two humans are the key players. A small spoiler here: late in the film, the devil is forced to leave Byrne's body. Determined to accomplish his goal, Satan enters the body of another person and goes off to make love to Christine. How is that supposed to work, exactly? Weren't we told earlier in the film that Byrne's body was the one Satan was supposed to use? Did somebody just change the rules, or what? I'm reminded of the scene in Steven Sommer's not-classic Van Helsing...actually, I'm reminded of most of the scenes in that movie.
What about that infamous number, 666? Well, this film informs us that 666 is not Satan's number. "In dreams," a priest informs us, "Numbers are often seen upside down. So, 666 becomes 999." See, every 1000 years, Satan gets out of hell, and gets a chance to try and sex his way to freedom. Add 1000 years to 999, and you get (gasp!) 1999. So, Satan has until midnight (the start of the year 2000) to find Christine. Arnold was thinking the same thing I was: "Eastern Standard Time?" Okay, yeah, whatever. Whoever set up this thing must have known that Lucifer would be in New York City, I guess. Never mind the fact that the new Millennium didn't actually start until 2001.
The hi-def transfer is okay, though grain is a factor in a few scenes. Blacks are pretty deep, but some of the darker scenes are a little murkier than I would prefer. The appropriately red-and-black color palette is mostly well-balanced. Sound is very strong, with a few key sequences that really will make the room shake. There's a nice mix between all the audio elements, and John Debney's solid score is particularly boisterous. One element of Debney's score misfires, though: every time something ominous happens, a boy soprano sings out "Agnus Dei!" This happens way too many times, and it starts to sound like a running joke after a while.
Satan: "I'm gonna do something totally bad."
Boy Soprano: "Agnus Dei!"
Jericho Cane: "Hey, look, some spiritual paraphernalia!"
Boy Soprano: "Agnus Dei!"
Extras are limited to a pleasant but somewhat dry commentary with director Peter Hyams. There's also the new "My Scenes" feature that allows you to snip your favorite moments from the movie and arrange a highlight reel. I could care less about that sort of thing, but I suppose some might like it.
There are more logic problems that I could hold against this film, but I really don't want to. If you try very hard not to think about anything going on, End of Days becomes an exceptionally entertaining action flick. Come on, it's a movie about Arnold trying to stop the devil from getting laid by firing rocket launchers at him! Director Peter Hyams has helmed a lot of mediocre action flicks, but this one is genuinely well-crafted from an action standpoint. There are lots of exciting scenes here, improbable as they may be. The special effects are good, Arnold's performance is more convincing than usual, Gabriel Byrne has fun with his role, and there's some nice supporting bits from Rod Steiger and Kevin Pollack.
Ah, but that's about as far as I can go. I'd feel guilty about trying to defend this film too much. It really is a pretty disastrous and poorly organized mess from a plot standpoint. Still, if you've got a weak spot for this sort of thing like I do, you'll probably enjoy it.
End of Days really wants to be a good movie. Everyone here seems to be taking it seriously, and they're all doing fine work. I've never seen Arnold make a more valiant attempt at being a natural actor (his crying scene is still painful, but at least he's trying). Almost everyone involved brings a lot to the table, but it's all ultimately crushed by the weight of a bad script. Too bad.
The film as a whole is guilty. Satan is guilty of poorly planned attempted rape, and is condemned to hell. Writer Andrew Marlowe is warned to think before he types. Everyone else is free to go.
Review content copyright © 2008 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 123 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary w/Peter Hyams
* My Scenes