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Ah-nuld takes on the ultimate baddie

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Byrne
"End of Days"

Reviewed by Carlos deVillalvilla

He's battled unkillable battle robots, nuclear terrorists, druglords, barbarians, monsters of every shape, size and description. Isn't it about time Arnold Schwarzenegger took on the devil?

It's just a few days before the end of the 20th Century. New York City is gearing up for the biggest party of the Millennium, but there's an uninvited guest - Old Scratch, who has been waiting for this shindig a lot longer than Mayor Giuliani. For, y'see, he's got a wedding to go to - his own - and once the union is consummated, it's curtains for mankind.

Enter Jericho Cane (Schwarzenegger), an ex-cop now making his living as a security guard, still grieving over the deaths of his wife and daughter at the hands of the mob, using the bottle to help him cope. When his charge, a Wall Street investment banker (Gabriel Byrne) is attacked by a deranged Roman Catholic priest, Cane and his partner (an amusing as usual Kevin Pollack) start digging into the attempted murder and discover more than they want to.

As is usual with most devil movies, a lone, imperfect hero fights an implacable, insurmountable foe with little more than his lack of faith to sustain him.

Byrne makes a charming Satan - less over-the-top than Al Pacino's Lucifer in "Devil's Advocate." Byrne underplays Satan as a subtle, affable fella - who rather than fly into a demonic rage when provoked, instead creates terrifyingly sudden acts of violence without much of a change of expression.

Schwarzenegger is surprising here, showing a depth of pain he usually doesn't convey. He kicks patootie, sure, but he's a very flawed and vulnerable man, who can cry for a lost family in moments of weakness. He has lost faith in his religion, in the system and finally, in himself. He neither wisecracks his way through flying bullets, nor does he bravado his way around falling chunks of masonry; he merely survives everything that is thrown at him. Early on, when he is hit by sniper's bullets, instead of shrugging off the wounds, he stays down to the point where his partner calls him a wuss. Imagine, the Terminator a pantywaist. Unthinkable.

Also worth noting are Rod Steiger as an irritable priest who holds the answers to most of Schwarzenegger's questions, Robin ("Empire Records") Tunney as the object of the Devil's affections and CCH Pounder ("E.R.") as an officious detective. As devil movies go, the cast is as believable as any since "The Exorcist," which remains the benchmark for the genre.

Lots of whiz-bang special effects, lots of things go boom, plenty of female breasts. What's not to like? Well, the main failing of most devil movies is that the devil is vanquished a bit too abruptly in a bit too cliched a manner. Also, there are a lot of logical flaws; throughout the movie, Satan kills with a crook of his fingertips, and shows no hesitation in doing so. Why not simply dispatch Ah-nold and take out his only obstacle to a successful Armageddon?

"End of Days" is a visual treat and, with only a few semi-dead spots, an exciting ride. Even given Schwarzenegger's surprising acting skills, it may not appeal to those with genuine end of the world Millennium fears. Just don't hate "End of Days" 'cause it looks beautiful.

Theater or Video?
Things go flying, things go boom - see it at the cineplex.

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