Constantine Movie Review
Almost every Catholicism-cloaked supernatural thriller since The Exorcist" has demonstrated an inherent lack of originality, falling back on the same tiresome genre staples: Possessed young women and tied-to-bed exorcisms, "lost" books of the Bible that allow the screenwriter to invent plot-convenient mythology, and a troubled hero trying to prevent some kind of demonic cross-over into our plane of existence.
One of the few exceptions was 1997's "The Devil's Advocate," in which Keanu Reeves gave one of his few truly fine performances as a gifted young defense lawyer whose life is torn apart when he accepts a prestige position in a big-city firm and discovers (too late) its literally Satanic origins. But apparently that was a fluke because Reeves is back to his usual monotoned self in "Constantine," revisiting the same genre as a routine demon-slayer who plays second fiddle to expensive special effects.
A chain-smoking tough-guy super-exorcist who lives in the grittiest part of downtown Los Angeles, John Constantine can see what normal mortals can't -- the angels and "soldier demons" who take human form and battle daily for men's souls. He has personally seen the nuclear-apocalypse-like fires of Hell (when technically dead for two minutes during a teenage suicide attempt) and has spent his life trying to buy his way into Heaven by dispatching devilspawn spirits back from whence they came, often with a golden, cross-shaped shotgun/flamethrower designed by an overzealous props department.
When evidence indicates that Satan's son (mentioned in a forgotten part of Corinthians) has designs on taking over our world, Constantine teams up with a foxy police detective (Rachel Weisz) who has untapped powers and whose demon-seeing twin sister may have committed suicide rather than become an unwilling conduit between Hell and Earth.
Directed by music-video veteran Francis Lawrence with little inspiration or reverence for its comic-book roots, "Constantine" is never boring, but is memorable only inasmuch as it boasts a particularly ferocious vision of Hell as a parallel plane of blazing destruction, which seems to sweep over the world at the moment one dies like the fiery winds of an A-bomb blast. These special effects may be obvious CGI, but the results are chillingly effective.
Otherwise the movie relies mostly upon slight variations on stock Catholic-horror concepts (Earthbound demons are metrosexual club kids this time instead of Goths), action-movie catch phrases (Constantine has a wisecracking kid sidekick to counter Reeves' drab, teeth-gritting seriousness), and the occasional reinvention of familiar Biblical characters (Tilda Swinton plays a dubious female Archangel Gabriel, all decked out in Jean-Paul Gaultier get-ups).
But the main difference between "Constantine" and its predecessors ("The Order," "Bless the Child," "Lost Souls," "End of Days," "Stigmata," etc.) is that this film screams "three picture deal" with its transparently sequel-bating finale. If it does well at the box office (and with only two kiddie movies opening against it this week, it should), expect "Constantine 2" to hit theaters sometime in 2007.