Combustible Celluloid
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With: Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Djimon Hounsou, Tilda Swinton, Peter Stormare, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Shia LaBeouf
Written by: Kevin Brodbin and Frank Cappello, based on comic books by Jamie Delano and Garth Ennis
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
MPAA Rating: R for violence and demonic images
Running Time: 121
Date: 02/07/2005

Constantine (2005)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Straight to Hell

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Warner Brothers has patched together a coming attractions trailer for Constantine that emphasizes all the action sequences and, frankly, makes it look a lot like The Matrix.

Their decision probably had less to do with marketing savvy than with sheer bewilderment. It's difficult to understand what Constantine is about, or indeed, whether it's a good movie.

The film's hero, John Constantine, debuted in 1985 during Alan Moore's run on the great Saga of the Swamp Thing comic book series. He later landed his own book, Jamie Delano and Garth Ennis's Hellblazer. He's sort of a foul-mouthed demon-buster who smokes a lot and doesn't take any guff.

For the film, star Keanu Reeves plays Constantine as more of a suffering, stoic loner. Reeves has spent his entire career whittling away at his acting technique, bringing in ever more simplified performances and this is the most accomplished and confident he's ever been.

Still, his confidence does little to save the rest of the film. The plot includes all kinds of cosmic, spiritual rituals and rules, some of them involving a lady cop (Rachel Weisz) and her (possibly) murdered twin sister (also Weisz). Apparently, demons from hell have suddenly decided to break the "rules" by crossing over in an attempt to bring about hell on earth.

In the world of Constantine there is deep belief in heaven, hell, God, the devil, demons and angels, along with a serious take on the lung cancer that Constantine has developed from his smoking habit.

A gifted director could have handled these intriguing ideas with passionate curiosity, but Francis Lawrence, who here makes his feature debut after helming Justin Timberlake videos, bulks Constantine up with pretentiousness and confusion.

Despite all this Constantine looks great, making atmospheric use of a dreary Los Angeles saturated in damp and darkness. It also showcases several wonderful character actors, notably Pruitt Taylor Vince (Monster) and Tilda Swinton (Vanilla Sky). But Peter Stormare (Fargo) outshines them all as Satan. He gives a completely unhinged, psychotic performance worthy of Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now or of Crispin Glover in anything, and bringing the movie its only camp value.

This film might have benefited from a director like Shane Carruth, whose recent no-budget sci-fi film Primer communicated a wealth of complicated ideas with amazement and awe. The main problem with Constantine is that it doesn't know what it wants to say and has no clue why it's even here.

DVD Extras include a commentary track, trailers, a music video, deleted scenes, featurettes, optional subtitles, an optional French language track, and a bonus comic book.

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