Constantine is another of Keanu Reeves’ special-effects laden metaphysical action pictures. So what’s a summer movie doing in the dead spot of February? Warner Brothers knew we might be tired of Oscar bait, and would enjoy a movie whose only ambition was fun. But Constantine mostly made me restless. It has a script that doesn’t play by its own rules, and a first-time director without an eye.
There’s a supernatural battle being waged in the shadows of LA. Since childhood, John Constantine, Keanu Reeves, has seen angels and demons among us. That drove him to kill himself temporarily, and he spent some time in hell. Hell looks like Hiroshima on top and Breughel down below. He doesn’t want to go back there.
Constantine is introduced performing an exorcism. There’s the usual thrashing, and the Latin. But then the demon tries to claw out through the girl’s skin. Apparently, they’re not supposed to do that. Something is wrong.
Constantine consults the angel Gabriel, played by the androgynous Tilda Swinton. Constantine is rapidly dying of lung cancer, and his soul is destined for hell. Haven’t all the demons he’s sent back counted for something, he asks? You can’t buy your way into heaven, Gabriel says. Constantine has never done a selfless thing in his life. In defiance, he keeps chain smoking, every cigarette a thumb in the eye of God.
A mysterious figure is trying to loose the Antichrist on the world. It needs the spear that pierced Christ’s side, and Angela, a psychic cop played by Rachel Weisz. She and Constantine are soon partners. They almost kiss a lot. She tells him, "God has a plan for everything." He says, "God is a kid with an ant farm. He’s not planning anything."
Constantine is structured like a detective story, but mysteries need logic. The script keeps pulling arbitrary rules out of its hat. Why does the electric chair help Constantine find the indestructible Mexican? And what in the world is up with the cat? We aren’t allowed to use our brains, so we just stare.
And if you’re looking for a visual style, you won’t find one. There are a lot of high angle shots, not very well composed, tossed in pretty much at random. The director Francis Lawrence’s idea of a close-up is to abandon a face in the middle of an empty rectangle, almost looking at the camera. It breaks down the eye contact between characters, and scenes don’t gel.
Should you see Constantine? If you caught the irresponsible trailer, you already have. This is not a terrible movie, just a sloppy one. The similarly plotted Hellboy and Blade 2, directed by Guillermo del Toro, had a world I believed in, and villains I remember. Still, I liked the character of Constantine. I’ll see another movie about him, as long as del Toro directs it.