John Constantine (Keanu Reeves): Demon-hunter, chain-smoker, and sarcastic hunk. He battles to save the souls of earthlings from an invasion by Satan's son but the muddled plot and an unlikely love interest keep this story about hellfire at a lukewarm temperature.
Ahhh, Keanu -- he’s gorgeous but that flat, halting voice, and lurching walk really make you wonder sometimes how he became such a big star. He always seems so stoned. Nevertheless, he has a commanding, movie-star stare that works in smart, sexy thrillers like The Matrix. No, he shouldn’t be held responsible for this big-budget dog that’s based on the DC Comics/Vertigo Hellblazer graphic novels. Pity the first-time director Francis Lawrence instead, but not too much.
We first meet gloomy John Constantine (Reeves) as he conducts a messy exorcism, complete with crosses, burning flesh, and close-ups of hideous plaque buildup on the demon’s molars. It’s a tough job but John just walks away with a drag on his ever-present cigarette. The film then continues as an eye-candy fantasy but even fantasies need characters with real emotions and moral dilemmas if they want to have staying power beyond, say, five minutes after the closing credits. Graphic novels like the Hellblazer series strive for adult depth in a comic book format but that depth has been lost in this flat adaptation. Lawrence, who previously made music videos, focuses exclusively on flashy special effects and while some of them are excellent, they can’t fully compensate for what’s missing.
The tangled setup is that angels and devils both utilize “half-breed” ambassadors to roam the planet for them and capture human souls. Constantine has been blessed, or cursed, with the ability to identify soul-snatchers and his fate is to stalk and kill naughty demons that break the rules (there are many rules, and they’re very confusing, so don’t even try to figure them out). Everything’s basically groovy until Satan’s son decides to personally invade earth and upset the delicate status quo. The young Master of Darkness got the idea from a special verse in Revelations that only devils know about (I swear I’m not making this up) but when he tries to possess the body of a cop named Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz), she and John join together to save the world quicker than you can say “contrived love interest.” They must travel on missions to Hell and back using water as a conduit, and there’s also a suicide involving a swimming pool. While I really enjoyed seeing sheets of wet, slimy fluid dripping off faces and hair, as well as the rippling, orange flames of the underworld, these visuals, alas, can’t hold an entire movie together.
The problem with Constantine is that he’s meant to epitomize man’s longing for salvation (destroy evil ghouls, go to Heaven) but he comes across as just another clinically depressed, hot-looking Angeleno living in a windowless apartment. It doesn’t help that the slimy demons he battles look like the monsters from Alien, thus encouraging peevish viewers to make unkind comparisons between that classic horror flick and this lame one.
It’s bad enough that Reeves is basically reprising his stoically dazed Matrix persona in a half-assed film where it can’t work, but poor Weisz (Mummy films) is stuck playing both Angela plus her weird twin, Isabel. It’s so cheesy when an actor has to do the good twin/wacko twin thing, especially when those twins spend a lot of time weeping tiresomely about Hell. Weisz usually conveys a rare combination of beauty and intelligence onscreen and she really deserves better than this. Tilda Swinton (as Archangel Gabriel) seems even more misplaced because there’s just no rational explanation for why a respected, theater-trained, character actress would appear in this stew of confusing plot and predictable characters.
Ultimately, Constantine inspires too many troublesome questions! Who is Satan Jr’s mom? Why does Gabriel wear a white, S&M bondage suit, and what does it imply about his personal life? Why does Satan Sr. (Peter Stormare) speak with a lisp? And finally, if John saves Angela, Earth, and himself, will he get to move out of his skanky apartment?
I first saw this film when it played in theaters and was pleased to see that its impressive colors -- murky apartment interiors, smoldering orange Hell, water with unnatural silvery tones – are still impressive on DVD. Furthermore, the soundtrack has a solid, thumping, ominous base but then most modern soundtracks do.
Unfortunately, Warner Brothers saw fit to release two different editions of Constantine. One is a two disc set that includes the movie, a disc of bonus materials, and even a mini-comic reprinting stories of the Hellblazer comic book. However that was not the version I reviewed. The version I got, the version that will readily be available at most rental places for those who want to watch the movie but not own it, is a different version altogether.
In this single disc version there are basically no special features to report. There are no interviews, and I was quite disappointed that the DVD for a film dominated by supernatural effects didn’t supply any background on the inspiration for those effects, or any information about when and how CGI was used. There are, however, 12 Deleted Scenes that total 18 minutes with optional director commentary that appear on both is and the deluxe edition. Be warned, the commentary on these is sparse. Francis Lawrence spends some time verbally salivating over a cute actress whose demonic flirtation scenes with Constantine had to be cut, but otherwise he just mentions that most of the scenes were cut to improve the pace of the story. The scenes don’t contain anything radically different from the final cut of the movie (aside from the aforementioned sexy demon girl).
The biggest disappointment about two separate versions of the DVD is that the price isn’t all that different, literally only a couple of dollars according to amazon.com. Warner Brothers didn’t really save any money making two different editions, because they aren’t making tons of money off the better, for-real-fans-only version. They would have been better off just releasing the deluxe version and treating everyone to the special features, making a few extra bucks in the process.