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We begin with a
True Story: Cranky found himself riding in a hotel elevator with actor Michael
Caine, in New York to promote The Cider House Rules. Caine is a very
friendly fellow and we got to talking movies. I mentioned that I was junketing
a different movie and Caine asked . . .
Verbatim conversation. Swear to God.
So here we are, just over a month to go before the end of the 20th century and the beginning of a new millennium, give or take 366 days. What better way to top off the year than to have Arnold Schwarzenegger beat up on Satan in the giddily bombastic End of Days. You could make a list of everything you expect in an Arnold Action picture: big guns, huge explosions, brutal beatings, great lines of dialog fit for repetition in fake Austrian accents, bodies snapping like the chicken bones used to make the sound effect -- you know what I'm saying. End of Days gives you all of 'em all in spades, plus a healthy helping of religious imagery of the Roman Catholic kind -- it is Armageddon time, after all.
But as good as Arnold gets, and he gets a good for or five of 'em, Gabriel Byrne as Satan gets the best one-liner in the flick as he redefines the meaning of "Armageddon". Wait for it. You won't miss it.
Twenty years ago, a comet appeared in the night sky above a full moon over Vatican City. It is an event which happens once every thousand years, fulfilling an ancient prophecy that, on this one and only night, the mother of the anti-Christ would be born. The Pope instructs his Church to seek out and find the child, not to kill her but to protect her. "You cannot use Evil to destroy Evil, no matter the temptation," says the Pontiff. And back in New York, the baby receives her initiation into the Dark Ways, as she suckles not on mother's milk, but on the blood of a freshly killed serpent.
In present time, with three days to go before the party of all parties is to begin, Satan himself rises from the Depths, possesses a human body (Gabriel Byrne) and sets things into such a tizzy that New York City is rocked by huge explosions. The Man walks calmly through the frenzy, knowing that in the last hour of the last day of the last year, he shall take the now grown Christine York (Robin Tunney) and conceive in her the Antichrist. Christine dreams about that union -- she calls 'em nightmares and takes tranquilizers by the fistful to try to suppress them. All the while she is carefully watched by an overprotective stepmother, in reality a member of a very different K.I.S.S. Army.
Cross-town in this holiday season, one which not surprisingly sees a great rise in the number of suicides, Jericho Cane (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a high tech security cop who lost his Faith after his wife and daughter were murdered, is prepared to more than toy with the notion. After a decade of seeing "Arnold" as a Terminator strong icon character, this "weakness" of character is a surprise, and one which Arnold the actor pulls off fairly well. Jericho's partner, Chicago (Kevin Pollack), shows up in the nick, bearing the makings of a particularly disgusting breakfast -- get used to it, the movie is particularly well seasoned by humor from Pollack -- then the pair is off to guard some high powered Wall Street tycoon. Yep. The Man.
It's just a coincidence. The script by Andrew W. Marlowe moves quickly, though it plays fast and loose with the scientific art of Criminal Detection. No plot holes so large that you could drive a truck through 'em, but the logic of the story gets stretched out thin like Silly Putty. Let it go. Jericho will find Christine. So will a Secret Order of Vatican Knights that pays no attention to the Pope. Satan will find 'em all and things will get downright messy. Everything on the checklist is attended to, with nothing out of place to distract the steady movement of your hand from popcorn bucket to mouth.
Byrne's character is the Grand Temptor and smooth talking Devil that fits the image nicely. Small effects are sprinkled throughout his performance and the big stuff is, of course, saved for last. Rod Steiger, as the priest who explains it all to you, once again takes a small supporting role and makes it fun to watch. Be warned, though, that the some of the hand to hand is intense and there are some particularly gruesome sequences involving crucifixion and carving prophecies into human flesh. You only see the end result, but it's still creepy.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to End of Days, he would have paid...
Don't expect a scientific film school analysis of this one. You know what you want from Mr. Schwarzenegger. You pretty much get it, though the ending is not what you'd expect. I'll say no more, but Schwarzenegger explains everything in his CrankyCritic® StarTalk interview. Be warned, twists and turns I've not revealed will be openly discussed in the interview. If you don't want to know, then see the flick first.
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