Say this much
for Constantine. In occasional moments, it's obvious
that everybody involved really tried. Once in a while the
treatment even rises above a standard demonic possession
tale, though director Francis Lawrence has a tendency to
borrow from a lot of genre biggies. Even Keanu Reeves takes
the role seriously, often looking like death warmed over,
a natural state for a character dying of lung cancer and
knowing full well what awaits him in the afterlife.
Yes, there are
a lot of good intentions in Constantine. But you
know what they say about such things. With movies, it's
the road to mediocrity.
The film jumps
around a lot before finally narrowing down on its plot.
All the elements do intertwine, but neither Lawrence nor
Reeves quite find a rhythm to make the first twenty minutes
or so anything more than tedious. In a sequence aimed at
really revealing Constantine's character, a very busy exorcism
seems just unnecessarily so, with no power to it. It isn't
until a herd of cattle die in response to passing by the
legendary Spear of Destiny that the film elicits any reaction
- and unfortunately, it's laughter.
be okay in a film about John Constantine, portrayed in comics
as a guy who laughs in the face of Hell. Instead, screenwriters
Kevin Brodbin and Frank A. Cappello have made him into a
sad clown. Overwhelmed by a childhood ability to see demons
and angels, Constantine tried to kill himself. As a suicide,
he has thus doomed himself to burn forever.
There are scant
compensations for this. At least he gets to meet a lot of
interesting people. For one thing, Constantine freely converses
with the angel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton), in a plot point
that seems to contradict the rules of the script.
To give the
action more urgency, Brodbin and Cappello set up a pact
between Heaven and Hell. Neither angels nor demons can come
onto the earthly plane; they can only whisper and try to
influence. Yet strangely enough, a lot of creatures looking
like angels and demons keep walking around and being observed
by humans, most of them more powerful than the "soldier
demon" Constantine exorcises early on.
Of course, they're
trying to break through. In fact, Hell's Bible says they
will succeed. To do so, they need a psychic, and have unfortunately
made their prime candidate Isabel (Rachel Weisz) commit
suicide. Luckily her twin sister, police detective Angela,
knows enough to call it murder. Through further intuition
(or divine intervention), Angela crosses paths with Constantine
in order to save her sister's soul.
it plays out like a supernatural James Bond movie. Constantine
has his Q in the form of the squirrelly Beeman (Max Baker),
who provides him with supernatural weaponry. Djimon Hounsou's
Papa Midnight could just as easily be dealing in black market
arms as black magic. Hell even has its own clever rogue
assassin, right out of SPECTRE in the form of coin-manipulating
Balthazar (Gavin Rossdale, yes, frontman for the band Bush).
If only Constantine were British, the picture would be complete.
For fans of
the comic book, the third act does start to gel into something
like Hellblazer. Yes, the crucifix shotgun does seem
too gimmicky, but its usage is mercifully brief. When it
all comes down to a climax, most of it is done with psychological
manipulation and an absolutely brilliant character choice
for Satan. It almost makes a dying Reeves seem dynamic.
To be fair,
Reeves does have a couple of moments. He captures the grim
determination of John Constantine, but fails to cover it
with the jester persona that the script does try to give
him. As an actor, Reeves can play more than one note; he
just refuses to play more than one at a time, and that always
holds him back.
Like most of
Reeves' action film work, you have to look around him to
take your pleasures. The production design does have some
good touches. Though a little overused, the soldier demons
do have a disturbing look. The idea of Los Angeles barely
concealing Hell may also be old hat to Angel fans,
but at least Constantine has the budget to really
bring it to fruition.
Lawrence has peopled the film with some interesting casting
choices. As an ill-fated associate of Constantine's (or
is that simply redundant?), wild-eyed character actor Pruitt
Taylor Vince gets a meaty part. Hollywood "It' boy Shia
LeBouef struggles to make the underwritten and wasted role
of Chas stand out. Swinton, however, owns Gabriel, though
it's clear she could have done it in her sleep.
fails to find any real spark, instead letting a gimmick
and a pinstripe suit do his acting for him.
If you're a
fan of the character, there's not enough here to satisfy
you. At times it gets close, and that's more maddening than
anything else. For people just looking to see a creepy movie,
not really a scary one, then Constantine will pass