Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career path changed in the 90’s. He began branching out into comedies as the era of macho action faded. His success in that endeavor is a matter of opinion (I think Jingle All the Way was the best comedy he did). But in his filmography of the time is a stand-out, an action/horror movie that was less Predator and more Exorcist. End of Days was the End of Days for Arnie’s acting career for about a decade as he focused more on politics and the movie itself was so critically panned that you can see why Arnold may have disappeared from Hollywood for a while. Perhaps he saw that his time was up and he should move on to trying new things. After all, one of the reasons we love Arnold so much is that he will try anything and isn’t afraid to fail.
And End of Days is a testament to that, I mishmash of genres and ideas that for all intents and purposes shouldn’t work. There’s a bit of The Exorcist mixed with Y2K conspiracies with a touch of The Mummy’s brand of action/horror. There’s a bizarre dynamic of typical cop films, Vatican drama, and over-the-top action. Arnold plays a sympathetic character,albeit a two dimensional one, who also happens to be a badass killing machine with little care for property damage or manslaughter charges. It’s a film that is constantly morphing into something else, providing what turns out to be a good popcorn flick despite all the flaws.
Arnold plays Jericho, the typical washed up cop whose family was killed by robbers. During a routine job he is pulled into a world of demons and holymen, a war between good and evil to prevent the end of days. Satan walks the Earth to have a child with a young woman and herald in the apocalypse on Y2K. The Vatican wants to kill the girl to prevent this, Jericho decides he wants to defeat Satan and save her. Thus he faces off with Satanists, members of the Vatican, and eventually takes on Satan himself.
The movie is grungy and ugly in a way that compliments the plot. It reminded me a lot of the horror/action comic books of the time. The direction is pretty standard and to tell the truth, the majority of the film is pretty run-of-the-mill. The action is nonstop but none of it is original. The acting is typically pretty bad, though Arnie gives a decent performance by his standards and Gabriel Byrne is a ham as Satan. The only really bad performance was Robin Tunney as Christine, the woman meant to have the devil’s child. She was a God-awful choice for a female co-star and even if Arnie isn’t giving his charismatic best, he looks positively stellar beside Tunney.
What I liked about the movie pretty much comes down to subject matter. I’m a sucker for this kind of religious horror film, especially if done in a more urban fantasy type way. I liked all the ideas presented even if they weren’t cohesive enough to make the movie anything less than awkward. But as the definition of a “turn off your brain” film, it works.
Another thing I want to point out is that the ending doesn’t cop-out. With an ending like the one in the film most movies would go for some sort of ham-fisted plot device to present a happy ending. But instead, End of Days sticks to what happens and feels so much more refreshing for it.
End of Days isn’t a memorable movie, it arguably isn’t even good. But it’s a ton of fun and propelled by some silly performances and a script that moves at a breakneck pace. It’s formulaic and does nothing new, it’s not even scary to tell the truth. But there’s a lot of entertainment to be found in it and even if Jericho is two-dimensional, it’s nice to see an Arnold Schwarzenegger character with a modicum of backstory, emotion, and motivation.