Hey folks, Harry here. I have already reviewed END OF DAYS (CLICK HERE TO READ IT) though that was a rough version of the film... technically it was the first time the film had ever been assembled and screened. There's been quite a few cuts and tweaks, really... quite a bit of minor changes... save for the ending which is now about 200times better than it was before. As I previously stated, I hold this as the best Arnold film since TRUE LIES, and it rests right behind T2, TERMINATOR, CONAN THE BARBARIAN, PREDATOR, TRUE LIES and TOTAL RECALL. And the only reason it falls behind those is that I prefer the writing and scenarios in those films. I really do feel this is Arnie's biggest stretch yet and he really does have a GREAT scene with Gabriel Byrne (who kicks major ass here) that is perhaps the best situationaldramatic scene I've ever scene that big guy in. There is a most excellent, albeit too brief, sex scene threeway style that is unlike any you've ever seen... It's... bizarre and cool. But enough of that... onto Moriarty who has more problems with the script than I have, but... ya know... fuck it, It's the type of Arnie film that A.B. King will be masterbating about for years... wanting to know when the sequel will be coming out...
Hey, Head Geek...
Before I fade back into the ether for a little while longer, I felt compelled to weigh in on END OF DAYS, Universal's big monster holiday entry, the film that is supposed to reinvent the careers of both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Peter Hyams. I've commented on the site many times about how much I didn't like Andy Marlowe's original draft of the script, but I've also covered the way Hyams came in and really worked to develop the film into something different, something darker, something special. When Harry was out this week, we arranged to swing over to Universal and take a look at the finished film. I went into it openminded, ready for anything, hoping for the best. Now, over 24 hours later, I find that I'm still sorting through my reaction to the movie.
First of all, AB King is going to have to take diapers with him to the theater. If you're like TALK BACK's biggest Arnold/Sly fanatic and you just haven't felt like there's been anything out there for you lately, then END OF DAYS is going to be a shot of happy direct to your cerebral cortex. It is a handsomely mounted production, a film that has been crafted with enormous skill by Hyams and his team. I'd go so far as to say it's the best visual work Hyams has done. I've always had enormous respect for the man because he shoots his own films. When you comment on the mood of a Hyams film, that's him. He makes great choices all the way through END OF DAYS (with a couple of very notable exceptions near the end) that suggest he should be given a shot at better material than this. If Hyams can make this film seem this respectable, Universal owes him a great script next time out. The film's opening is effective and creepy, and we dispense with the conventional "Arnold's a man on the edge, a man with a painful past, and he's got nothing left to lose" material in short order.
Once the film gets going, there's material that's definitely worth seeing. Almost all of it has to do with Gabriel Byrne. He is remarkably effective, suggesting evil with a quiet confidence that's seductive, pitch perfect. His initial possession of Byrne's body (he first appears as an investment banker who is being protected by Arnold's security company) is menacing, and when he goes to visit the high priest (Udo Kier) of the cult that has prepared the way for his earthly conquest, one of the film's most memorable images takes place. Without giving it away, it's a sex scene that manages to be disturbing, erotic, and original in one simple fluid camera move. It's a nice use of CG imagery, most of which is hit and miss in the film. Satan's at his most interesting when it's just Byrne's face, as in the film's major set piece (in my opinion) -- a confrontation between Byrne and Arnold that involves temptation, the promise of a loss restored, and whether or not God is entirely good. During this scene, I actually forgot that I was watching a $100 million action scene. For this one sequence, the film seemed to be after something better.
And perhaps that's why so many things do stand out and aggravate me about the film. The action scenes are actually the weakest link in the picture. I'm not against spicing up a dark drama with big action sequences if they're interesting or kinetic, but here the three big boys all fall flat. There's a helicopter sequence at the beginning that was almost funny. There's just no tension, no real energy to the scene, and the big punchline to it is absurd. There's a subway sequence that's a little better. Arnold takes a massive amount of abuse in the film, and I like the way those beats are built into things. When he almost breaks a jaw or when he slices his hands open, those things work. They make Arnold vulnerable, and the credit there has to go to Hyams again. He does his best to convince you that Arnold's overpowered, something we haven't really felt since T2. There's no real stopping Byrne. His power is so intense that all Arnold can hope to do is survive him.
And that brings us to the show-stopper, the big finish, the showdown with the big CGI demon version of the devil. It's just a dud. It just doesn't inspire any emotion whatsoever. It shows up, it roars, it looks like CGI, and then it vanishes again. Arnold is just tossed around by something invisible, and then he collapses. It's not much of a fight, and the "twist" ending manages to both work for the movie (it's nice that Hyams was able to steer them away from the conventional happy ending) and deflate it as well (we see it coming a mile away, and there's no real surprise when it happens).
There is a lot to like here if you want to. The performances are all good. Robin Tunney, Kevin Pollack, Miryam Marguiles, Udo, and even supporting actors like Linda Pine and Victor Varnado all make strong impressions, easily overpowering the words they have to work with. It's a good thing Hyams has such taste, too. He elevates the script every chance he gets. He lays it on way too thick in those final ten minutes, but it's the nature of the beast. Andrew Marlowe, the writer of the equally horrific AIR FORCE ONE, has built a no-win screenplay here. There's just some gigantic honking story defects built in that can't be overcome. We're too familiar with these characters, with these types of films. We know each move as it's being made. There's never any real sense of surprise.
Even in a season as overripe with great films as this one, END OF DAYS has an audience. You know who you are. If you're on the fence, thinking, "I love Arnold, but I don't want another ERASER," then see it. It's better than that. If you have a soft spot for COMMANDO, see it. It's much better than that. If you were willing to pay money to see JUNIOR in the theater just because you love Arnold, then go. It's going to give you your money's worth and more. But if you're looking for a film that delivers more than surface thrills and the hint of psychological sophistication, then skip this. The film marks no new territory, despite a surplus of style and a sterling presentation. If I know my film geeks, then it's a safe bet that Universal's going to do fine with this.
I have to run now, but I'm going to try and sneak in an AMERICAN MOVIE review before it opens this Friday. I'd love to share my thoughts with people who are picking their movie for the weekend. Until then...