Wednesday, November 24, 1999

'End of Days' gutsy, gore-packed action flick

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        End of Days gets my nomination for the guilty pleasure of the year.

        This wacky fantasy is everything we've come to expect from the one and only Arnold Schwarzenegger — loud, lurid, bloody and ridiculously entertaining. It's not a good movie, but it's a juicy one.

        The story unfolds like this: Sometime in 1979, a celestial event alerts Vatican officials that a special baby girl has been born somewhere in the world. One faction wants to kill her, the pope wants to protect her; he dispatches a visionary priest to find the child.

        Twenty years later, with the millennium knocking on the door, that priest is on a rooftop trying to gun down Gabriel Byrne, whose body has been possessed by what looks like a giant jelly fish that blew out of a New York sewer.

        Instead, the priest hits a bodyguard, our man Arnold, who runs the shooter to ground, partly while dangling from a helicopter.

        It turns out the old priest was trying to knock off the devil himself, back to take over the universe. The catch is, he only wins if he can impregnate that now-grown, though still clueless, special child (Robin Tunney) in the final hour of the century, Eastern time.

        The movie plays as a kind of Rosemary's Baby: The Sequel, complete with groveling Satan-worshipers conveniently lurking in hospitals and police stations. (Man, did they pick the wrong side. Here they were counting on immortality, but instead, every other minute somebody's head is twisted off by the mighty Beelzebub, who it seems is very easy to annoy.)

        Clearly, this is a job for an embittered, agnostic, suicidal ex-cop equipped with enough firepower to stop Lucifer in his tracks. And who else could play this cop but our Arnold, aging but still chiseled and still the best live-action cartoon figure on the planet.

        The road to the final showdown is paved with dead bodies, hit squads of knife-wielding priests, symbolic crucifixions (two of them), satanic foreplay, hilarious wisecracks from Arnold's sidekick Kevin Pollak. And explosions. Lots and lots of explosions.

        The trick is not to take anything that happens, not one frame of the whole two-hour extravaganza, seriously. This is the cinema of the absurd, super-sized.

        It's been a while, but for faithful Arnold fans — you know who you are — End of Days was worth the wait.

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