Take it away, gravelly-voiced man: ""It's the twilight of the millennium. The greatest force of evil threatens the future of humanity. Only one man can stop him". Schwarzenegger (sound of iron door slamming)... Satan (sound of another iron door slamming)... Showdown!" Well, the trailer could have gone something like that. And you can't deny that End Of Days gets the adrenalin glands twitching, with its promise to pit modern cinema's biggest action icon against Western civilisation's baddest bogeyman.
Arnie fans can relax: this ain't another Eraser (which was more yawn than brawn), and it's certainly not another Batman & Robin. You can safely expect the Austrian Oak to be back on form with this Se7en'd-up slab of gore-guzzling mayhem. Although most of the shocks are strictly of the cat-jumping-out-of-the-shadows standard (damn, that moggy's got a good agent), End Of Days does successfully maintain a gloomy atmosphere of menace, with a raincoated Schwarzenegger exploring dark corridors while waving a flashlight about, X-Files style. Walls are daubed with bloody, Satanic symbols, old tongueless priests are pinned to ceilings by scalpels and nightmarishly erotic hallucinations involve sex scenes reminiscent of gross-out flick Society.
Respect to director Peter Hyams, then, for resisting the urge to lay on the hi-octane set-pieces too thickly, and restraining his bulky star while warming the horror pot slowly enough to make its boiling over effective. Hyams encourages his lead man to try and flex those acting muscles, and so we see Arnie doing some very un-Arnie things: when we're first introduced to his character, he's sticking a gun in his mouth, and later on we even see him break down and (kind of) cry as he mourns the loss of his wife and child. Most surprisingly, in one scene he has the crap kicked out of him by the plump, motherly Miriam Margoyles.
But worry not. As the battle hots up, there's plenty of the usual one-handed machinegun firing, rocket launching and one-liner delivering (our favourite? ""Between faith and a Glock nine-millimetre, I'll take the nine-millimetre"").
As with most big-budget crash-slammers, however, the most entertaining element is the bad guy. Making Gabriel Byrne The Prince Of Darkness was a casting masterstroke. Byrne affects a zippy Brooklyn accent (which makes him sound oddly like Robert De Niro), and puts a spring into Satan's step.
It's the end of the world and every-one else is partying, so why shouldn't Ol' Nick join in too? Byrne's Devil is a horny old goat who revels in his ability to knock the life out of anyone who gets in his way - - including the hero. In fact,he so consistently whups Arnie's arse, that you begin to wonder how the Chumpy One could ever triumph. It's a testament to Byrne's presence that, once he's replaced by a gargantuan CG bat-demon, the film's appeal plummets drastically.
But to criticise End Of Days for its preposterous monster climax would be like criticising Deep Blue Sea for having an absurd plot. As far as no-brain entertainment goes, it's best summed up as one Hell of a movie.
Gruesome in some places, explosive in others, End Of Days keeps its horror gory and its action noisy. It won't win any awards, and it's not going to blow your mind, but the Arnie/Satan face-off delivers everything you'd expect: nothing more, nothing less.