STARRING: Keanu Reeves, Rachel
Weisz, Djimon Hounsou, Tilda Swinton
2005, 121 Minutes, Directed by: Francis Lawrence
It’s The Exorcist meets The Matrix and the
result is a watchable if illogical flick that will probably make more sense once
it’s out on DVD with all the deleted scenes restored and some commentaries
explaining the whole mess. Based on the DC Comic, Hellblazer, Keanu
Reeves stars as John Constantine, a chain-smoking exorcist/demon chaser who’s
anxious to redeem his soul. When he was young, he committed suicide and
therefore is fated to go to Hell. So his life in murky, grungy Los Angeles is to
hunt down demons and save a couple souls. Enough good deeds and Heaven might
welcome him in.
Rachel Weisz (The Mummy)
plays Angela Dodson, a police detective stunned by the suicide of her twin
sister. She enlists Constantine to help her figure out what drove her sister to
leap off a building to her death. She figures that her sister must have been
possessed or driven to suicide. The two soon discover that there’s more
happening than a random possession – the son of Satan himself is hunting for a
way to come into the world.
As directed by newbie, Francis
Lawrence, who’s best known for directing music videos, Constantine is
sluggish and unevenly paced. There are moments where the movie looks like Blade
Runner with its noirish portrayal of Los Angeles. Constantine lives above a
bowling alley in a dirty, gloomy apartment that looks like its right out of a
Raymond Chandler novel. But where a Harrison Ford or a Humphrey Bogart can
manage that smoky, low-growl, low-energy appeal, Keanu Reeves seems blank and
"Hell, by the way, looks like a Los Angeles freeway . . ."
The cast is otherwise first
rate if underused. Weisz is disappointingly only a little bit of eye candy. When
she first sees a flock of demons, she’s barely surprised. Tilda Swinton (The
Deep End) plays the angel, Gabriel. Djimon Hounsou (In America) plays
a witchdoctor. The always-interesting Pruitt Taylor Vince (Monster) plays
Constantine’s friend, Father Hennessy. And Shia LaBeouf (I,
Robot) is Constantine’s young protégé. Suffice it to say, you’ll figure out
in the first 10 minutes, which of Constantine’s friends get killed.
Though the basic story had a
lot of potential, there’s a lot of extraneous fussiness that’s neither explained
nor expected. The movie opens with the discovery of the Spear of Destiny – the
spear that had been used at the Crucifixion to wound the side of Christ.
According to legend, possession of the Spear would bring its owner the power to
conquer the world. As the bearer of the Spear makes his way to Los Angeles,
we’re stuck with other inconsistent rituals. To visit Hell, Constantine needs to
hold a cat, sit in a chair and keep his feet in a basin of water. But for
another visit, he just needs a special chair. Someone else wants to visit Hell?
Try a bathtub. And there are interesting symbols on tattoos, medallions and
etchings - none of which are clearly explained as to their relevance except as
a prelude to a special effects sequence.
Special effects? Yup, plenty of
them – and the effects sequences are the only moments when Constantine
comes alive as blank-faced Reeves makes his way through Hell and against demons
and angels. Hell, by the way, looks like a Los Angeles freeway from
The Day After Tomorrow.
Constantine lacks a deep
enough script for creepy, occult-based horror, and it’s too slow-paced to be an
action film. If Reeves is looking for another franchise, he’d do well to find
another director who can make best use of his particular acting style. Until
then, Constantine joins Keanu’s long resume as a movie that’s high on concept
but poor in execution.
- Harrison Cheung
Passable viewing even
though a lot of it doesn't make if any sense at all. And obviously once you get
over your geeky comic book thing that Keanu Reeves isn't exactly the ideal
choice for the lead character. However, moving the action from London to a moody
L.A. isn't such a bad idea even though it would have been nice to see a horror
movie set in the British capitol for a change. Has some cool moments that are in
essence true to the spirit of the original comics though. Still, was a coherent
and comprehensible screenplay that much to ask for? — James