A Film by Peter Hyams

Lucifer is a real badass.

He looks like Gabriel Byrne, too, so he knows he’s cool. He can make women want him with a mere glance, make them want to melt--literally, into his flesh, like butter. He can rise from the depths of hell and inhabit any body he wants. He can toss his enemies aside like rag dolls, he can raise the dead, he can shrug aside gunshot wounds, he can piss napalm, he can blow shit up, and he can keep an army of cgi animators busy until kingdom come&ldots;so to speak.

In fact, the only thing he can’t do is kill one down-on-his-luck, alcoholic cop who happens to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger after an extended crack jag. You see, Big Arnie (played by Big Arnie) has stumbled onto a conspiracy involving the Catholic church, Satanic cults, and a girl named Christine who was born to whelp the Antichrist. Come 11PM on December 31, 1999, Lucifer’s calendar calls for him to take off his Armani suit, pop a coupla Viagra, and make a deposit in Christine’s womb. But he has to have all his ducks in a row, because infernal insemination is a tricky process, and the conception of the Antichrist has to happen in that one hour. So Lucifer’s here on Earth a few days early to make sure his nuptial plans don’t go awry. He inhabits Gabriel Byrne’s body and begins making his malignant preparations. And God help the fanatical priests, shadowy Vatican agents and stumblebum cops who get in his way. He can’t be bargained with. He can’t be pleaded with. He doesn’t know fear, or pity, or remorse, and he absolutely will not stop&ldots;.

See, that’s where director Peter Hyams and the other makers of this movie snarfed it. All they had to do was look at the script and scratch their heads for a moment to realize that they were really re-making The Terminator, just with a bunch of mumbo-jumbo religious horror trappings instead of a bunch of mumbo-jumbo science fictional trappings. Then they would have realized that they had their casting all back-asswards, that Gabriel Byrne should be playing the raggedy-ass cop and Arnie should be playing the Sperminator. That way, everybody would have been spared Gabe devolving into Robert DeNiro during a protracted metaphysical debate with Arnie (!), and Arnie could have done what he does best, which is reduce everything to cinders and kill everyone in sight. And hey, let’s face it, if you’re going to steal a body to inseminate some babe with the genes for the Antichrist, you couldn’t do much better than Schwarzenegger gametes. An Antichrist should have big muscles and a natural gift for blowing shit up.

Last time, I spanked Stigmata for being a formulaic regurgitation of all the old religious horror cliches, and I can’t let End of Days get away with it either. The difference is that End of Days has mixed in a bunch of action-adventure cliches too, so at least it has a pulse. As you would expect from Hyams, the movie’s well-paced—it goes somewhere, in spite of lackluster performances. Robin Tunney, as Christine, is gorgeous and competent, but with no spark. Byrne manages to be dark and menacing until the director lets him start rambling like a Brooklyn goombah.  Kevin Pollack (as the doomed buddy) just follows Arnie around and makes wry comments until Lucifer gets him. Rod Steiger takes on his doggiest role in decades, as a wild-eyed priest sworn to protect the Devil’s Bride. Arnold is Arnold.

Some of the cgi stuff is positively trippy (watch for the hallucinatory threesome sex scene in which Gabriel Byrne fuses with his ladies and becomes a onesome). But that’s just not good enough. The movie certainly works hard to entertain us. Yet it still manages to make us work too hard to sustain our disbelief. The breaches in the plot gape like hell-holes, and we can’t be convinced to jump over them, because the characters, quite frankly, aren’t real or engaging enough to be worth it.

James Cameron does Rosemary’s Baby.

Sullydog does not approve.


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