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End of Days (1999)

The concept of casting Arnold Schwartzenegger as cop with a past who has let himself go is richly amusing.

The first time we encounter Arnie in End of Days, the camera pans around his apartment to find an ocean of boozy detritus. Arnie is sprawled on the sofa, drunk and considering shooting himself.

Roused by the arrival of his partner, he drops leftover pizza into a blender, whisking it up with booze and whatever else is lying around. Arnie, we’re being invited to believe, is a man who has given up trying.

This is wonderfully unconvincing – so dumb it slaps us into disbelief. Where a Cruise or a Willis can persuade us to go along with them as tortured souls, Arnie is simpy too much throbbing muscle to provoke anything but incredulity: nobody who is hammering scotch and whisked pizza for breakfast looks as if he could juggle tractor wheels, or toss an oven over bales of hay. Arnie can grow as much stubble as he likes, it won’t make us buy him as a man in despair.

Kevin Pollack is cast as his wise-cracking partner, acting like someone worried that Arnie might sit on him at any moment, or knock him down with a swinging giganto-limb, or otherwise crush him in one of the various claustrophobic sets. Arnie is probably only safely performed with in spaces large enough to swing Conan’s sword.

All Arnie can do in this role is lend the whole movie an absurdist, almost Police Squad feel.

Arnie hath no limits, nor is circumscribed In one self place

But this is all as it should be. The movie ought to feel like a joke we’re being invited to share with Arnie and journeyman scifi schloker Peter Hyams (who also made Timecop and the excellent The Relic, a great contribution to 1990s B-moviedom). That’s what those of us who rented this thing from the store were looking for back in the day. Nobody plucked it off the shelf imagining they were getting Dr Faustus.

No, our curiosity was stirred by the notion of Arnie v Satan gunplay. If the film could keep up an entertaining pace, and crucially have fun with this stupidity, we might have thought our three quid rental well spent.

Pity then, that instead of laughs and braindead fun, it descends into tiresome sleaze.

What art thou Arnie, but a man condemned to die?

A look at the writing credits explains a lot. Andrew W Marlowe was also responsible for the godawful Air Force One (which manages to make Gary Oldman the Russian terrorist boring) and the nasty Hollow Man.

Each has no sense of humour despite being unspeakably silly – which suggests the few funny Pollack lines in End of Days were the result of that excellent actor ad-libbing.

As is the case with Marlowe’s other two turkeys, there is a fun, stupid concept to play with in End of Days, but it is all taken far too seriously.

It starts promiosingly enough. Things are set up nicely for some dipshit mayhem: Arnie’s character is even called Jericho Cane for goodness sake.

Jericho used to be a cop, but since his work got his family killed, he’s fallen hard to the bottom of a bottle. He left the police and now works for a private security firm. It’s in this capacity that he first encounters satanic Gabriel Bryne – as his bodyguard.

Meanwhile, across the city, a young woman (Robin Tunney) is tortured by terrifying dreams. Step mother Miriam Margoyles reassures her there’s nothing to worry about, but we know from (a pretty decently played) flashback that said relative is in league with Udo Kier (of course) – and is secretly preparing Tunney to carry Satan’s child.

This is all promising enough nonsense, with plenty of fantastic casting to carry us over the finishing line – but it all falls apart hideously, and swiftly.

Arnie and Bryne have far too little time to interact: we see nothing of Arnie actually protecting him. Why for Beezlebub’s sake? Couldn’t Bryne have worked his way into Arnie’s affections, playing to his disenchanted perspective? Couldn’t we have witnessed Arnie do increasingly bad things in his service?

No. Instead we’re given a priest character for Arnie and Pollack to track down – and some balderdash about him speaking with no tongue. After said priest is murdered, the lads track down Tunney, and resuce her from a homicidal assault by Vaticassassins. This sequence is a little more like what we were after, but really…why is this the way Arnie encounters Byrne? It’s all very messy.

Worst of all, Marlowe makes a humourless predator of Satan. Half the story centres around his various attempts to rape Tunney. This is horribly ill-judged, and lingered on in a fashion that’s deeply unpleasant. Byrne – a wonderful candidate for a Satan role – can do nothing with this trash apart from get through it.

This is not what we wanted to see in a movie this silly. If you are going to make Satan a character and go to the trouble of casting Bryne, you had better make him more than grubby and despicable.

Not only is he vile, he’s criminally boring too, rendering the last third something of a trudge, lifted only a little by a massive and very bald performance by Rod Steiger, and some forgettable action.

The 90s viewer felt let down by this depressing mix of the dumb and the dirty. Far better to have ended this thing with Arnie and Steiger each dying, arriving in hell, and fighting Satan right there on the lake of fire, where uzis and AR-15s will no doubt be in plentiful supply.

That would feel more appropriate to the intelligence of the picture and the expectations of the audience. Instead we’re left bored and wondering why how it is we’re bored. Marlowe should be tormented with ten thousand hells for such piffle.