**1/2 (out of 5)
February 18, 2005
Keanu Reeves as JOHN CONSTANTINE
Rachel Weisz as ANGELA DODSON/ISABEL DODSON
Shia LaBeouf as CHAS CHANDLER
Djimon Hounsou as MIDNITE
Gavin Rossdale as BALTHAZAR
Tilda Swinton as GABRIEL
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I remember seeing the trailer to this film and thinking it was going to be somewhat like “The Matrix.” At least, that’s what the previews made it out to be. However, after seeing it, I realized there’s only a certain Matrix quality to this, namely with some grand special effects and a lot of shots of Keanu Reeves in a black trench coat.
Now, it’s not necessarily a bad thing that this wasn’t another version of “The Matrix.” In fact, I give the film a lot of credit for not trying too hard to play off the Matrix fame. It really is a different type of movie. In some ways, Hollywood actually swerved into a somewhat decent backdrop of angels and demons. Sadly, the closest they’ve got in the past were films like “The Prophecy,” which really wasn’t that good in the first place.
Based on the “Hellblazer” comic book, Keanu Reeves plays John Constantine, an exorcist who has been locked out of Heaven for committing suicide. He’s brought back to life, and since he’s already been to Hell, he knows that demons are real. Constantine now spends his days vanquishing demons from our realm.
Meanwhile, in L.A., a woman named Isabel Dodson (Rachel Weisz) has committed suicide. Her twin sister Angela, a cop, starts to investigate her death. The trail leads her to Constantine. Once the two join forces, they learn that the demons are hatching a plot to break through to our realm and really raise some hell.
There’s some really clunky pacing in this movie, sometimes tossing characters in for no good reason. And there’s also a bizarre anti-smoking message that keeps getting in the way of the story. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like smoking, but I get really irritated with the constant preaching about smoking from the Hollywood crowd, considering they smoke like chimneys.
Okay, I’m off my soap box.
The biggest problems with “Constantine” all seem to stem from Keanu Reeves. The problem is that Reeves really can’t act. Sorry, Keanu, but the truth hurts. The only reason you were good in “The Matrix” was probably because you had so few lines. But the character of John Constantine just comes across as a darker Neo and has some of the worst lines ever written for the silver screen. These might have worked in the original comic book but just sound silly coming out of Reeves’ mouth.
I had read that Nicholas Cage was the studio’s first choice, and if Cage had played the lead it would have turned into a much better film. Cage wouldn’t have changed the weird plot deviations and story elements, but he would have at least brought a little more life to the character.
But “Constantine” isn’t a total loss. There were some genuinely interesting moments, and in some ways it successfully put together a film that captured the essence of the battle between angels and demons (until you get to the post-ending credit scene, which completely violates everything the film was about). The backstory relies heavily on a strict Catholic interpretation of Heaven and Hell, but so do other classics like “The Omen.” Too bad that John Constantine wasn’t Jewish. That would have caused some problems, wouldn’t it?
Another excellent part of this film was the casting of Tilda Swinton as the Angel Gabriel. She seems to be destined to play the androgynous characters, but she does it so well. Also, a brief (although somewhat overdone) appearance by Peter Stormare as Lucifer was a nice touch. But still, there are scenes that are just silly, like a bug demon attacking Constantine on the street corner. That was a bit too much if you’d ask me.
There are some decent special effects, although the film takes itself waaaaaay too seriously at times. “Constantine” goes to hell and back to wow the audience, but too many of its tricks fall flat.