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 slightly crabby.

"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 O'Ehley


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