is really nothing inherently so wrong with "Constantine" that you
would be justified in calling it "awful". To be sure, there is also
nothing really extraordinary about it to justify words like "great" or
"pretty good". In fact, the perfect word for music video director
turned film director Francis Lawrence's comic book adaptation
"Constantine" is "good". Could the film ever have risen
above being just good? Yes, there are many ways where this could be
accomplished, but the biggest obstacle to "Constantine" achieving
greatness, or at the very least "very goodness", is its star. In
short, Keanu Reeves, many blockbuster hits, one fabulously successful sci-fi
punk trilogy, and two "Bill and Ted" movies later, still has the
acting chops of driftwood.
"Constantine" stars Reeves ("The
Matrix" movies) as the titular character, a shady street psychic who
once committed suicide when he was a teen, only to be awaken minutes later on
his way to the hospital. (Minutes in the real world, but an eternity in Hell,
where time stands still.) Now an adult, Constantine has dedicated his life to
"deporting" criminal demons that have made their way into the human
world and in doing so, tipped an abstract "balance" between the forces
of Heaven and Hell. His reasons are simple, even selfish: his suicide years ago
has damned him to a life in Hell upon his death, and having already taken a
round trip through Hell once, Constantine desperately wishes to avoid making the
trip south a second time.
Enter female Detective Angela (Rachel Weisz, "About
a Boy"), a latent psychic who comes to Constantine for assistance when
her twin sister Isabel (also Weisz) commits suicide. Angela doesn't believe that
Isabel killed herself, because the two are devout Catholics, and like
Constantine, killing yourself is the most unforgivable sin for a Catholic, as
Heaven's doors are closed from suicides. Constantine spurns Angela at first
(that whole selfish thing again), until circumstances, and the appearance of an
evil entity on Earth, draws him back into the fray. With help from some mortal
allies, including young cabbie Chas (Shia LaBeouf), Constantine and Angela must
battle the forces of evil for the souls of all human beings. Or some such.
You would have to be inseparable from the bible to
"get" all of "Constantine's" many religious references. And
as I've said many times in the past, I'm a lapsed Buddhist, and as such all the
Western religion knowledge I know comes from movies and TV newscasts about how
organized religion is bad for your health. "Constantine's" talk of
Gods and angels and demons and all the dogmas of the faith are lost to me, but
to give the film credit, the script actually interested me enough to pay
attention. And while I still don't know get all the inside baseball, I can
safely say that the script is clever and inventive enough that I tried mightily
to pay attention.
But alas, where the script manages to keep my interest,
coupled with Lawrence's generally creative visuals, the fact that Keanu Reeves
is in almost every frame of the film takes away from "Constantine"
being anything beyond a 3-star movie. Simply put, Keanu Reeves just can't act.
This is made doubly worst because John Constantine is a lost soul, but as played
by Reeves, Constantine is a stiff, bland man who can barely say his lines
without sounding like he's swallowing a gerbil at the same time. Interestingly,
I can't help but notice that as he ages, Reeves has developed something of an
unsightly twitch in his bodily movements. Perhaps all the stiffness in his
acting has translated to stiffness in real life? Oh, the irony.
Where Constantine should be a selfish ass looking out
for Number 1, Reeves is a disheveled guy who can't convince he actually smokes
in real life, and no amount of trickery with the lighter will dispel that truth.
Without belaboring the point too much, there is little doubt that another actor,
someone of, say, Clive Owen's talents, could have turned "Constantine"
from an okay movie into a damn good movie. All the elements are there for a
nihilistic, depressing movie of "Seven"-esque magnitude, and all
that's needed is a dark presence. Keanu Reeves can't do dark to save his life.
Despite all the movies he's done, all the success he's had under his belt, Keanu
Reeves is probably the worst choice to play the down-and-out and unlikeable
Constantine, and no one besides fans of Mr. Reeves will fail to notice this.
Yes, despite the
obvious constraints of its leading man, "Constantine" is strangely
very entertaining. Much of the credit, I believe, is owed to comic book writer
Garth Ennis and fellow comic book guy Jamie Delano, who successfully turned a
third tier background character into one of comicdom's most notorious and
intelligent creations. (For those looking for more Ennis brilliance, take a look
at this "Preacher" comic books.) The world of "Constantine"
is really what keeps the audience's attention, from demon Balthazar (played
effectively by Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale) and Tilda Swinton ("The
Deep End") as the sexually ambiguous angel Gabriel, and a host of other
interesting characters. Whereas Keanu Reeves twitches his way through the film,
Swinton, Rossdale, and Djimon Hounsou ("In
America") as a voodoo priest brings the dark comic book world to life
with abundant personality.
Fans of Keanu Reeves will no doubt despise me for
having spent so much time in this review pointing out the lacking aspects of Mr.
Reeves' acting ability. To be honest, it's impossible to separate the general
uneasiness of seeing Reeves as Constantine from the movie's narrative, and hence
it's inevitable that much of this review is spent detailing why Reeves just
doesn't work in the leading role. Having said that, even despite the handicap of
having Reeves as the star, "Constantine" is still creative enough to
entertain. If nothing else, "Constantine" marks the most successful
transition from music videos to film for its director Francis Lawrence since
David Fincher broke the mold with "Alien