REVIEW: CONSTANTINE (2005)

CAST

Keanu Reeves (Speed)
Rachel Weisz (The Mummy)
Shia LaBeouf (Transformers)
Tilda Swinton (The Chronciles of Narnia)
Djimon Hounsou (Stargate)
Max Baxer (The Island)
Pruitt Taylor Vince (Heroes Reborn)
Gavin Rossdale (The Blign Ring)
Peter Stormare (American Gods)
Larry Cedar (Deadwood)
April Grace (Lost)
Jhoanna Trias (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers)
Valerie Azlynn (Julia X)
Kevin Alejandro (Arrow)
Michelle Monaghan (Mission Impossible 3)

Ever since he was young, John Constantine could see things – things that humans aren’t supposed to see. After a childhood spent in and out of mental hospitals, John finally discovered the truth behind his gift. After attempting suicide, the young man traveled to Hell, where he learned that demons are indeed real. So are angels. As he’s aged, John has become more and more aware of these “half-breeds” – part human, part spirit – that roam the planet, influencing the living. They are never really a threat to individuals, since the powers in both Heaven and Hell have an agreement. No real emissaries of good or evil can visit the plane of reality. It’s a truce between the sides called The Balance. And John tries to maintain said symmetry.

When the twin sister of police detective Angela Dodson kills herself, it somehow leads to John. It seems that the angel Gabriel and Satan’s emissary Balthazar both have a connection to the case, and the reasons are horrifying. It appears Satan’s son is trying to find passage into this plane, and it’s up to John to stop his progress. But with minions manipulating the forces toward a final showdown, all John can do is try and put the pieces together. It may not be enough to prevent the bringing of Hell on Earth, which is what Satan’s son would do if Constantine doesn’t stop him.

With all it has going for it, Constantine should be better. It has a powerful graphic novel lineage (DC Comics/Vertigo’s Hellblazer titles are no slouches, after all), a leading man with a track record in genre fare (even if the Matrix movies were more Wachowski than Reeves) and the aforementioned supernatural sensation of The Bible to tip the scales. But somewhere along the line the movie loses its way, failing to maximize the potential in its premise. What we end up with is a big budget spectacle that cries out to be epic, yet only ends up being enjoyable. Maintaining entertainment value is not necessarily a bad thing – there are dozens of clunky would-be blockbusters out there that would give their eye candy teeth to be half as engaging as this film.

A lot of the problem with the film comes in pacing. First time director Francis Lawrence  mistakes slowness for seriousness, trying to add gravitas to his narrative by drawing things out. Sometimes, it works, but more often than not, the languid plot velocity grows tiresome.

Surprisingly, Lawrence takes the opposite approach with his set pieces. Each of our leads (Keanu Reeves and Rachel Weisz) takes a trip to Hell, and each time, we more or less race through the region. Stunning shots of distant fiery landscapes barely get time to register on our retinas before Lawrence and his CGI minions make with another supped-up sequence. The notion of giving the Underworld a post-nuclear fall-out feel is indeed unique, and it is one of Constantine’s many marvelous attributes.

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