Constantine (2005) / Horror-Action
MPAA Rated: R for violence, gore, scary images, some drug use, and language
Running Time: 121 min.
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf, Djimon Hounsou, Max Baker, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Gavin Rossdale, Tilda Swinton, Peter Stormare
Director: Francis Lawrence
Screenplay: Kevin Brodbin, Frank Cappello
Review published February 21, 2005
Inspired by the long-running DC/Vertigo comic, "Hellblazer", Constantine offers an interesting world where Earth becomes a battlefield between the dominions of Heaven and Hell fighting for the fate of men's souls. I say "inspired" because the film version changes a great deal about the characters, so I'd have to say that even if you don't like the movie, but are interested in the overall premise, the comics are still worth checking out for the real deal. This review is only of the movie, and not of the comic book, so I'll try my best to ignore the fact that artistic license has been taken, mostly for the worse. 'Nuff said on this.
Keanu Reeves (Something's Gotta Give, The Matrix Revolutions) gets the starring nod as John Constantine, a somewhat nihilistic, self-loathing demon hunter who appears to be spending his last days on Earth due to a bout with lung cancer (John smokes way too much). Constantine is slated to go to Hell upon his Death -- a fact that all of the demons he has thwarted relish. However, this doesn't stop him from continuing to try to do his job, hoping, perhaps in vain, that he will ultimately be judged worthy of escaping his fiery fate and earn his way into Heaven instead. His latest adventure has him joining forces with a police detective named Angela (Weisz. Runaway Jury), who is investigating the apparent suicide of her twin sister, Isabel, who fell from the roof of a hospital building. Angela is convinced that her sister didn't commit the damnable deed, and Constantine vows to help her in her search for the answers as to Isabel's fate, as well as to why the minions of Hell are trying to break through their portal into the mortal world.
Although I must admit that I am disappointed in Constantine, I feel the need to mention a few things it does well before I mention why it fails. There is an interesting mythos to the story, although it doesn't always make sense, but the Heaven vs. Hell aspect is intriguing enough to engage in and of itself. There is a campy feel to the story that says that it is going for a pulp entertainment vibe, and not really caught up in its own self-importance, which does let us accept it on its own terms as a fantasy-adventure. Lastly, the special effects and sound effects are competent enough. I'm not generally one to be impressed by eye-candy, but the look of the effects and the editing do enhance the story well enough to gain it some respect, even if I ultimately dislike the movie.
However, these intriguing aspects just aren't enough to elevate Constantine into the realm of competency required to be a truly good film. The primary weakness comes from the terrible dialogue in the script, which I suppose shouldn't come as a surprise, since the previous claims to scripting fame for writers Kevin Brodbin and Frank Cappello happen to be the scripts for Steven Seagal's The Glimmer Man and Hulk Hogan's Suburban Commando, respectively. The plotting of the script itself is equally poor, with thinly fleshed out characters, nonsensical situations, and confusing motivations. Yes, I realize that this is a "go with the flow" sort of movie, but the messy nature of it sure doesn't help viewers trying to follow the story.
There is a tendency when seeing a Keanu Reeves film to bash Keanu for the reason why the film didn't work, but I won't be doing that here -- at least not directly. Keanu is usually stiff and uncharismatic in his more serious roles, and he does come off that way throughout Constantine, but with dialogue this terrible, no one could make it sound good. It's almost an irony that Reeves delivers his lines as stoically as he does, as any amount of emoting would only make his performance more painful to watch. Besides, any man whose days are numbered, suffering from cancer, and a knowledge that he is slated for eternal damnation would probably have to be dead to the world or he just couldn't function, so it works for what it is.
Alas, for all of the spit and polish that music video director Francis Lawrence tosses on, the albatross of a script just can't be made to sparkle. Constantine will have its audience, particularly among genre geeks and those who appreciate the aesthetic look of a film more than plot development, but underneath all of this, it's clear that it was put together without enough thought to make it truly successful. When all is said and done, the final judgment pronounces this one a less-than-heavenly diversion that occasionally teases but can't deliver consistent quality on its initially promising ideas.
©2005 Vince Leo