End of Days (1999) Review
End of Days was directed by Peter Hyams (Outland, Timecop), written by Andrew W. Marlowe (Hollow Man, Air Force One), and stars Arnold Schwarzenegger (Escape Plan, Sabotage) Robin Tunney (Monster Party, The Craft), Gabriel Byrne (The 33, Hereditary), Kevin Pollak (Red State, Apparition), CCH Pounder (Warehouse 13, Godzilla: King of the Monsters), Derrick O’Connor (Deep Rising, Brazil), and Rod Steiger (In the Heat of the Night, A Fistful of Dynamite). It’s about an ex-cop trying to prevent the birth of the Devil’s child before the new millennium to stop the apocalypse. I’m not kidding.
The Plot: For as gonzo as the premise may sound, Hyams does what he can to keep the story in some kind of reality. It’s a difficult task that’s been handed out and the result is mixed but it’s hard to envy the job. In 1979, Christine (Tunney) is born with the mark of the devil. In preparation for this, the Pope has sent out emissaries to find her. 20 years later with only a few days left in the millennium, the Man (Byrne) is possessed by the devil and his assassination by Thomas (O’Connor), a priest, is thwarted by Jericho (Schwarzenegger) and Bobby (Pollak).
What’s off is that he has no tongue. Jericho has evidence that no one else does, but detective Francis (Pounder) is still somehow only minutes behind. Finding more and more odd details about the circumstances and deaths with religious influence, Jericho is left to seek out Christine and once he finds her, defend her from devilish deeds with the assistance of Father Kovak (Steiger).
The Characters: It’s Hyams’ restraint that damages the characters and outfits them with generic traits and backstories in a movie whose premise warrants more outrageous and idiosyncratic characters. Jericho is a bog-standard ex-cop and ex-believer that now has alcoholic tendencies and a sardonic sense of humour. After the death of his family he lost his faith and quit his job as a cop to properly help Christine, he has to return to his faith.
What does work about Jericho is his arc, his reactions to and actions towards seeing people so devout after his own devastation is realistic, if not entirely reasonable. Christine is similarly decent enough in that she’s not sure of her beliefs for a lot of the runtime, but because of her afflictions; she’s more willing to believe. Bobby is a nothing character, as is Francis. The Man is the outlet for more out-there moments, like grabbing a woman’s boobs at a restaurant and urinating oil; but he still feels weak due to his lack of on-screen participation until the latter half. To call these characters a missed opportunity is an understatement.
The Crime: Schwarzenegger’s leading role would indicate that End of Days is an action movie. A safe bet, to be sure, but a losing bet all the same. This Schwarzenegger vehicle focuses more on the criminal element, with Jericho doing plenty of investigating and running from the devil’s men and women. Criminal actions play out with banality, since most of what Jericho needs to know is handed to him on a silver platter.
Like the location of Thomas’s base, that he has a piece of paper with an address on it in his pocket despite him having been in New York for 20 years. Surely he would’ve figured his own location out by then. Even when the script doesn’t throw Jericho endless amounts of bones via his convenient placement or written notation, it fails to do much exciting with the more investigative angle outside set design anyway.
The Technics: It’s easy to poke holes in the story and point out the undercooked characters, but what’s hard to crack is the construction of the movie. Hyams has always been a top-notch cinematographer and it shows in End of Days. He makes use of some great production design to add a fairly identifiable and dark, semi-gothic aesthetic for what could easily be (and usually is) a bland crime/thriller. The handful of action scenes that Hyams hands out doesn’t fare as well, though.
There are so many moments where Jericho does something simple like throwing a punch or shooting a gun that is edited to hell (get it?) for no reason. Arnold was clearly doing a majority of his action scenes but it’s still edited like there’s a stunt double that needs to be hidden. Some of the CG compositing is obvious, not necessarily dated, but obviously because of the green glows on the edges of the characters. For the most part, it is a good-looking and good-sounding movie.
End of Days deserves a remake. A remake that is willing to take more risks and give a unique concept a unique execution. Even casting Schwarzenegger again would work if the writing was less tepid. Still, End of Days is a competent but unremarkable crime movie with some good moments; just not enough.
End of Days is available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital platforms via Universal. If you’re still feeling devilish, FilmTagger has some suggestions for further viewing.