Film— Constantine (R)


by Amy Diaz

Keanu Reeves doesn’t get to play chess with Death but he does have a conversation with the devil not to mention an assortment of other angels and demons in Constantine, a dreary silly action movie based on the DC/Vertigo comic.

I can’t tell if Cheez Wiz like this is wasted on the stubbornly not-hammy Keanu (man, you’re in a movie about Hell — raise some already) or not (there is, on the other hand, something to be said for moving as few facial muscles as possible). He’s a lousy actor, but it comes of that school of taciturn-punctuated-by-LOUD, not from some soap-operatic tendency to chew the scenery and flutter about sprinkling the confetti of its remains. Constantine might be the type of movie that needs that kind of bad acting.

On the other hand, it could just be a silly adaptation. After all, when we first see John Constantine (Reeves) bad-ass his way into the apartment of a girl possessed by a demon, he’s sucking on one cigarette after another looking, for all the world, like a bored junior high school student. Extra-large attitude stuffed in a medium black suit, Constantine saves souls the way William Holden saves his countrymen in Stalag 17 — with a jaded smirk and out of pure self-interest. Constantine, despite not thinking very much of the heavenly order of things, apparently is a devoted Catholic. Since he tried to kill himself to escape the voices in his head (and, well, everywhere else — Constantine can see the angels and demons the rest of us can’t), he’s condemned to an eternity in Hell, a fiery unpleasant spot to vacation forever. (Though, as I understand it, suicide is an unforgivable sin because you literally can’t be forgiven. You’re not around — what with having killed yourself and all — to ask for forgiveness. If you tried and failed at suicide — in Constantine’s case because he was revived — don’t you then have a chance at forgiveness? Sorry, what was I doing, this is clearly not a situation for over-thinking.) Constantine’s plan to get out of an infinity of burning torment and watching A Walk in the Clouds is to save as many people as he can. Then God will like him again.

Also, because he’s so plugged in to the supernatural network, Constantine soon realizes that “something big is coming” and perhaps if he can prevent this great evil from rising he’ll truly get a little leeway with the big guy.

Man, if I had a nickel for every time a movie character sensed that “something is coming”…

Helping Constantine in a quest that he comes to believe may involve the devil’s son’s attempt to take over the planet is plucky detective Angela (Rachel Weisz). Her twin sister recently died — perhaps from suicide, perhaps from something more sinister — and Angela is determined to get to the bottom of her death, even if the bottom is in the underworld. Constantine has some extra incentive on this case. A doctor has recently told him that a lifelong cigarette habit has given him a year-at-most life expectancy.

Constantine starts in a lot of fun places — the Spear of Destiny (the thing the Romans used to poke Jesus’ side) makes an appearance wrapped in a Nazi flag; Gabriel (Tilda Swinton) is sort of a benevolent corporate schmuck; there’s the requisite neutral territory bar; Constantine has a geeky-cute but underused sidekick (Shia LeBeouf). None of these things really turn into much. Sparks of “hey cool!” burn out leaving only the ash of “whatever, nevermind.” The central story seems afraid to run crazy with its premise and Reeves’ oatmeal-bland performance prevents any of the limited fun that is had from blossoming into fully-fledged spectacle.

- Amy Diaz

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