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Constantine (2005)

Hell wants him. Heaven wont take him. Earth needs him.

Directed by:

Francis Lawrence

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 121 minutes

US Certificate: 15 UK Certificate: R

Country: United States

Terrified by his power to see through the human disguises of half-breed angels and demons on Earth, a teenaged John Constantine took his own life and, as a suicide, went to Hell – until, two minutes later, the doctors managed to resuscitate him. Now an adult, Constantine (Keanu Reeves) knows all too well where he is headed the next time he dies, and so, in a self-serving attempt to earn admission to Heaven instead, he has dedicated himself to deporting back to Hell any demons who cross the line on Earth. Yet his quest for redemption has so far failed, and with a cancerous tumour devouring his lung, Constantine is running out of time. Approached by a sceptical police officer named Angela (Rachel Weisz) to help solve the mystery of her twin sister’s suicide, Constantine stumbles upon an infernal plot that spells apocalyptic doom not just for himself, but for the entire human race. Better start praying.

John Constantine started life as a secondary character in Alan Moore’s DC Comics series ‘Swamp Thing’, before becoming the centre of attention in Jamie Delano and Garth Ennis’ spin-off comic ‘Hellblazer’. With ‘Spawn’ and the more recent Hellboy establishing something of a niche market for heroes who travel not just from Hell to Earth, but from comicbook to the silver screen, it was really only a matter of time before Constantine would get a cinematic incarnation – but what is perhaps far more surprising is just how unlike ‘Spawn’ and Hellboy this film turns out to be. Expect an effects-driven action extravaganza, and ‘Constantine’ is destined to disappoint. Instead it is a moody revision of film noir, shot in subdued browns and shadows, with its eponymous protagonist more like a down-at-heel detective than a muscle-bound superhero. Sure, there are the occasional CGI beasties to fight, but these are, if you can believe it, rather understated – and even Satan himself, played with wonderfully sleazy petulance by Peter Stormare, is really just a guy in a white suit. ‘Constantine’, you see, is concerned less with demonic chopsocky than with allegorising the eternal conflict between good and evil, sin and redemption (note the main character’s initials) – which is why right from the outset it aligns itself directly to that other horror film with a strongly theological bent, ‘The Exorcist’.

Where ‘Constantine’ is let down, though, is in the casting of Keanu Reeves. In his previous filmic brushes with Satan he has played dim-witted ‘Devil’s Advocate’ to a desperately overacting Al Pacino, and even challenged Death to a game of Twister in ‘Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey’ – and with a filmographic cross like that to bear, it is a real stretch to take the demon-baiting surfer dude at all seriously here. Even worse, where Constantine is supposed to be a tormented spirit, contemptuous of his fellow man, haunted by his own diffidence and horrified by his hellbound destiny – in other words, the kind of part that invites some very dark shadings from its actor – Reeves instead plays it completely blank, as though the only thing troubling him is the inner struggle to remember his next line – and he is in so many scenes that no amount of support from actors like Weisz (in two rôles) and the ever excellent Pruitt Taylor Vince (as an alcoholic priest) and Tilda Swinton (as the half-breed angel Gabriel) is quite enough to save the film’s soul.

It's Got: Exorcisms, demons, a screech beetle from Amityville, and enough anti-smoking messages to drive the tobacco industry to drink.

It Needs: Someone with more weight than Keanu Reeves in the lead rôle.

Alternatives:

Hellboy, Spawn, The Exorcist

Summary

Keanu Reeves surfs through his acting in this otherwise excellent demonic film noir.

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