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[whitespace] Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Byrne
Devil Made Him Do It: Arnold Schwarzenegger takes on the devil (Gabriel Byrne) with superior firepower.


Arnold Schwarzenegger faces off with the Devil in 'End of Days'

By Richard von Busack

After 50, said George Orwell, everyone gets the face he deserves, and the aging Arnold Schwarzenegger--ape-jawed, crumbling--is more interesting to look at now than he was as a young man. Of course, many of the reviews of End of Days will stress his undeniable hokiness and mock that thick accent that refuses to submit to the melting pot. But of the many films trying to suck up the Zeitgeist of the last months of the eon, the unoriginal but spirited End of Days prevails. It gives style to the pending end of the world.

In a prologue set 20 years ago, director Peter Hyams frames the troubles to come with a comet and an audience with the pope, who has an exhausted murmur, like Don Corleone. Cut to New York for the birth of the anti-Christ's mother, Christine, who is baptized with rattlesnake blood by the unearthly Udo Kier. Back in 1999, our hero, Jericho (Schwarzenegger), is some sort of hard-partying high-tech security man in Manhattan. Jericho's been protecting a wealthy man secretly hosting the spirit of the Devil. It Is Written that Satan must impregnate a human on New Year's Eve 1999 by midnight (Andrew W. Marlowe's script is witty enough to ask, "Is that Eastern Standard Time?"). The chosen woman (the spry, smart Robin Tunney) is already compromised because the Devil's been tempting her in her dreams since girlhood.

The match between Satan (Gabriel Byrne) and Jericho is not easy to second-guess, the Devil being impervious to bullets. Which of the other muscle men of the '80s could have put such Teutonic emphasis into the lines that explain to Satan the nature of the quarrel between Jericho and his God: "We had a difference of opinion. I thought my wife and daughter ought to live." Larding the film with shocks and inert comedy relief, Hyams doesn't get drama where it could be most easily obtained: from watching the erosion of Schwarzenegger. A less hackneyed director wouldn't have let Arnold broadcast his malaise by playing suicidally with a pistol (such showboating obviously isn't a dark night of the soul but a steal from Mel Gibson's own opening minutes in Lethal Weapon).

Schwarzenegger and Tunney fight through trim action sequences in a runaway subway train and in various exploding churches and have a standoff with a Vatican-run assassin squad. (The Catholic hit men are identified, ridiculously, by their flaming pierced-heart insignia. You wish someone would ask: souvenirs from the House of Blues?) What this film offers is the lure of Byrne's intrepid Devil, who promises that the Apocalypse will be nothing more disturbing than "a change of management." End of Days is a better deal with the Devil than Devil's Advocate, The Omega Code, Stigmata and the other anguished Book of Revelations-inspired cinematic blather.

Schwarzenegger is fascinating in his stiff and unbending faith that superior firepower will overcome the Devil. When he finally does turn to more traditional religion, the moment has just as much passion and drama as the other Catholic crisis movies coming out this winter. In Schwarzenegger's very moving last scenes, you can see not just a man bowing to the force of Good but a bruised, peasant faith in man's free will to choose what side he fights on in the war between God and the Devil.

End of Days (R; 120 min.), directed by Peter Hyams, written by Andrew W. Marlowe, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Byrne and Robin Tunney, plays in Capitola at 41st Avenue Playhouse, in Santa Cruz at Santa Cruz Cinema 9 and Skyview Drive-In, in Watsonville at Green Valley Cinema 6.

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From the December 2-8, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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