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Constantine Movie Review

originally posted many years ago

Here's the weird thing about Constantine. On one hand, the movie
is incredibly visionary, a living nightmare that conjures all the fiery
horrors of Dante's "Inferno" and scatters them onto a dark, brutally
conceived world. Here, heaven and hell are at war, and earth is its
battered battlefield-our world is warped into a horrifying, vividly
imagined place. In some alternate, benevolent universe, with the right
amount of brilliance, this heavy world of fire and smog, of warring
angels and demons, would birth something extraordinary. But this is not
an alternate universe, and Constantine is not a successful
product of its vision. Constantine could be grandiose comic book
entertainment, but it is instead a disgusting mess of clashing things-
terrible lines of dialogue, unbearably boring characters, and a story so
incomprehensible, it defies even action movie logic. Constantine's
world of shadow bypasses the moody and the brilliant, and plummets
directly into impenetrable darkness.

That's what's so depressing about Constantine. It could be-
should be-something great, but it isn't. There's plenty of reasons
for this, but mainly, it's because Constantine, a movie about
scarred Christian soldiers battling the minions of hell, inherently
treads such a thin line between coolness and absurdity. This movie has
such fantastical things-big ugly demons, not-so-angelic angels, crazy
voodoo priests, strange occultist rituals-that it requires the
audience to suspend an unholy amount of disbelief. This stuff only works
if it's delivered in just the right way, and Constantine misses
the mark completely. Constantine never convinces us that this
stuff is anything less than abominably silly, and so we can't take it as
seriously as the director would like.

Constantine is an adaptation of the "Hellblazer" comic book
series, and if I may say so, it wasn't adapted very well. Keanu Reeves
stars (big mistake right there) as John Constantine, a holy policeman,
if you will, who ensures that the playthings of God and the Devil don't
interfere with human activity. You see, long ago, the Great I Am and
Lucifer made a wager for the souls of mankind, with the only rule being
that humans could not be influenced directly. Of course, angels and
demons don't always play by the rules, and that's where Constantine
steps in. How he got this job is not very clear, but it has something to
do with visions he had as a child and divine redemption after a suicide
attempt. Either way, Constantine is the guy to call if you need a good
exorcism, or the removal of any nether-wordly beings.

Since most angels and demons stay in hell and heaven where they belong,
Constantine doesn't meet a lot "big-timers" in his line of work-
usually, he vanquishes mere "half-breeds," foster children of God and
the Devil who reside here on earth. However, lately some full-fledged
demons have emerged in Los Angeles (including a baddie made of bugs,
reminiscent of Oogie Boogie from The Nightmare Before Christmas),
which could mean that Satan is up to something. Weirder still is that a
young woman's suicide seems to be the cause of the demonic cameos. Turns
out, the Devil's son is planning to take the world for his own, and,
wouldn't you know it, Constantine is the only one who can stop him. Some
help is given by the suicide victim's sister, Angela (Rachel Weisz), a
detective who can see evil things.

Constantine is an odd fellow (who wouldn't be in his line of work?), who
fights evil not for the glory of good, but to buy his way into heaven.
He's a cold mofo, who wears the same black jacket and loosened tie
everyday, chain-smokes something awful, and who would probably punch you
if you asked him how his day was going. He's unlikable and boring, and
no audience member will be willing to spend nearly two hours watching
this soul-searching, smile-less loser.
Hell, even
his superiors don't like him. When Constantine asks the angel Gabriel (Tilda
Swinton) if he has any chance of reaching God's kingdom, the benign
Archangel replies simply, "You're fucked."
How awful,
and how incredibly laughable this movie is. Things happen in
Constantine that might've been neat or spooky in another film, but
that come off as loony and farcical in this one. One early scene depicts
a hair-raising exorcism, and aptly describes the kind of experience
Constantine will be. A possessed girl is tied to a bed, and
Constantine looms over her, pressing some sacred symbol to her forehead.
The girl, in true Reagan McNeal fashion, writhes about in her
restraints, flailing her legs, vibrating violently, and screeching
demonic sayings. In The Exorcist, a similar scene was chilling,
but in this movie, it's difficult not to laugh. Eventually, Keanu Reeves
starts punching the poor girl in the face as the demon tries to escape
her body, and it becomes some darkly silly scene out of a Troma movie.
Constantine is loaded with more stupid things like this-Djimon
Hounsou as a poorly dressed witch doctor, Constantine's weapon; a
crucifix turned into a shotgun-and it never can bring itself out of
its hole of unintentional comedy.

Sometimes, Constantine is so bloody ludicrous, it borders on
entering the "so bad it's good" category. However, the performances make
sure that doesn't happen. Keanu Reeves hasn't learned much since The
Matrix; his monotonous acting remains dreadful, to the point where
only a pair of shades separates Constantine from being Neo. Rachel Weisz,
gifted star of the Mummy movies, offers nothing exceptional here.
Tilda Swinton is an interesting choice to play Gabriel, but ultimately,
not an effective one. Oscar nominee Djimon Hounsou isn't in enough of
the movie to make it better. And finally, Peter Stormare plays the Devil
himself in the weirdest way possible. He is not the Prince of Darkness I
would've expected, and he comes off as more of a deranged carnival ride
worker rather than the lord of all evil. And, as a side note, while
Constantine is eager to show us Satan, it never dares to reveal a
physical embodiment of God. My guess is the the Almighty didn't want his
good name to be credited with such an abysmal movie. I suppose His
profile as an actor is high enough that He can pick and choose his
projects however He wants.

I hate that Constantine stinks so much, since there were a few
things I saw promise in. The imagery in this movie is staggering
sometimes, like the broad wings of the angels, or the raging wasteland
of Hell, where a few characters pay an occasional visit. Flames whirl in
a hurricane of dust and sulfur and screams, surrounding a ruined city
inhabited by the nastiest creatures imaginable. If only the story told
with these images were worth anything-then you'd have something. Then
you'd have one reason to celebrate Constantine, instead of a
million reasons to despise it.

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