By Shawn McKenzie 02/22/2005
I am not a religious person, so when I see a movie with a huge religious theme, I get confused. My confusion ultimately leads to my not enjoying the movie, which is why I wasn’t completely crazy about Constantine.
You will have to forgive me if the following summary doesn’t make any sense…I saw the movie and I still don’t understand it. The Spear of Destiny (the sword that killed Jesus on the cross) has been missing since World War II. Two scavengers (Jesse Ramirez and Jose Molina), the first one named Manuel, dig up the Spear somewhere in Mexico. The Spear possesses the body of Manuel with Mammon, the son of Satan (Peter Stormare as Satan, but we don’t see him until later on in the movie), and he heads toward Los Angeles. In L.A., Father Hennessy (Pruitt Taylor Vince) has called upon John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) to help exorcise a possessed Latino girl (Jhoanna Trias.) Constantine arrives with his sidekick/driver Chas Kramer (Shia LaBeouf) and extracts the demon out of the girl. He sends the demon back to Hell for not following the rules (he has the ability to see demons and send them back there.) Meanwhile, police detective Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz) is investigating the unexplained suicide of her devoutly Roman Catholic twin sister Isabel (also played by Weisz) from the top of Ravenscar mental hospital, which she currently resides. Her partner, Detective Weiss (Jose Zuniga), shows her the video surveillance footage of her suicide, but she refuses to believe it. Back to Constantine, he receives news from Dr. Leslie Archer (April Grace) that he has terminal lung cancer from smoking 30 cigarettes a day since he was 15 years old. The cancer and a suicide attempt he made when he was a teenager have guaranteed him an eternal place in Hell. He has tried to buy his way back into Heaven with good deeds (such as the exorcism of the girl), but the archangel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton) has told him that it won’t work. When Angela reexamines the tape, she notices Isabel whispering “Constantine” before jumping off the building. It peaks her interest, so she asks for Constantine’s help. He doesn’t want to do it at first, but when some of the demons follow her, he thinks that Angela might be the key to the recent otherworldly goings on. He is equipped with weapons, like Holy water, a demon flame-thrower, and a demon noise box, all given to him by Beeman (Max Baker), a gadget maker friend of his. Constantine goes to a bar filled with “half-breeds” of both angels and demons, owned by Papa Midnite (Djimon Hounsou.) He wants Midnite to let him use “the chair” (an electric chair from the abandoned Sing Sing prison) so that he can see if Isabel was indeed sent to Hell. Midnite refuses, stating that the bar is a neutral ground, and that he would not help either Heaven or Hell. He then confronts Satan’s right-hand demon Balthazar (Gavin Rossdale), who tells him that Angela is Mammon’s actual target body to rise to Earth from Hell. When events occur with Angela and the other people he knows, it is up to Constantine to fight Mammon and Satan (who intends to bring him to Hell personally) and assist Angela in her investigation, all with the hopes that he will be able to “retire” in Heaven.
Based on the DC Comics/Vertigo graphic novel series Hellblazer (a spin-off of Swamp Thing) by Alan Moore, the movie is confusing and trippy. First time feature director Francis Lawrence helmed this movie, and I don’t know if it is a coincidence that it was originally supposed to be directed by Tarsem Singh. Singh was a music video director, like Lawrence, and went on to direct the equally trippy Jennifer Lopez movie The Cell. Both movies were hard to follow its plotlines, but visually, both were very cool to view.
Reeves fortunately didn’t say “whoa,” but I don’t think that he made a very good Constantine. Since I’ve never read the books, I won’t quibble at the fact that the character was supposed to be from England, and he was supposed to be patterned after Police frontman Sting, from a physical standpoint. From what I understand is the character’s signature trademark, Constantine smokes like a chimney. While I have heard that Reeves really is a real smoker, a few other critics have suggested that Denis Leary play the character, since filmmakers had decided to make the character American. Since I would love to see Leary lead an action movie, I’d be open to it. As it stands now, Reeves is a little too reminiscent of Neo, his character in the Matrix movies (sorry, but that is what I was thinking while watching the movie. Just give it a few years…I might change my mind.)
Some of the other characters were…interesting. Stormare stood out in his brief appearance as Satan. Swinton was odd as the androgynous angel Gabriel, and LaBeouf did okay in the comic relief role as Chas. Bush frontman Rossdale really has a great look as a bad guy. If I didn’t know he was a singer by trade, I’d swear that he could have a successful career as a character actor. Weisz and Hounsou were both just boring to me, while Baker and Vince were both just eccentric.
I wish that I could pinpoint my non-overall love for Constantine. It might be the religious theme, but that didn’t stop me from loving Kevin Smith’s 1999 Heaven and Hell film Dogma. The perplexing nature of the film might also be an element that has made me not want to see other movies such as ones directed by David Lynch, or some Oliver Stone movies like Natural Born Killers. At least the special effects were cool and it had a few memorable performances, but I think that I would wait to see this on DVD, if I hadn’t already seen it free at the movie screening.
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