When it comes to dealing with the devil, Hollywood has had a hell of a time trying to make it work. Sometimes they do (the original Exorcist and Omen films, Rosemary’s Baby and Angel Heart), but most of the times, they do not (the Exorcist and Omen sequels, End of Days and anything starring Ashton Kutcher).
Constatine is the latest foray into this most inconsistent of genres. Keanu Reeves plays John Constantine, who was born with a gift he didn’t want – the ability to clearly recognise half-breed angels and demons that walk the earth in human guise. J.C. (do you see the significance of the initials?) was driven to attempt to take his own life in order to escape the tormenting clarity of his visions.
However, Constantine was resuscitated against his will and found himself cast back in the land of the living. Marked as an attempted suicide case, he now patrols the earthly border between heaven and hell, hoping to earn his way to salvation by sending the devil’s foot soldiers back to the depths of Hades.
Reluctantly teaming up with a sceptical policewoman called Angela (Rachel Weisz) to solve the unexplained suicide of her twin sister, Constantine is taken through the world of demons and angels that exist just beneath Los Angeles. Will they be led to the forces that may be behind the suicide? Such as….Satan?
For all of the sound and fury that former music video director Francis Lawrence unleashes on the screen, Constantine is about as much fun as eating a box of communion wafers. His visual eye is right out of the David Fincher playbook, but his directing abilities are sadly lacking. The action scenes are lifeless, the attempts at humour scarier than the film’s actual fright scenes and the religious overtones are so heavy-handed that they would be rejected by Mel Gibson.
Frank Cappello and Kevin Brodbin’s screenplay, based on the DC comic Hellblazer, is also a dud. It hits every target on the bad screenplay dartboard with deadly precision – it’s pretentious, clichd, thin, convoluted and irritating as, erm, hell. Admittedly, when one bases a screenplay on a comic book there’s a good chance that the result won’t match Million Dollar Baby, but there is less in here, a two hour film, than there is in your average daily newspaper comic strip.
As for the acting, Reeves brings a new low to onscreen emoting (yes, even more so than in The Matrix Revolutions). Weisz is actually a decent actress, but chooses to continue to star in drivel such as this and the Mummy franchise. She matches Reeves’ performance in terms of inertness – obviously nobody in the casting department saw the horrific non-chemistry generated by the pair in 1996′s Chain Reaction.
To be fair, the film does actually have a few redeeming qualities. Philippe Rousselot’s attractive cinematography is one, the visual effects are another, while Tilda Swinton’s brief turn as the archangel Gabriel and Peter Stormare’s Satan gives the film some much-needed life. Perhaps if the film centred on these two and regulated the Timber Twosome to the background, we might have had something here.
Constantine is pure hell on Earth, or at least your local cinema. Earn your salvation and skip this altogether.