John Constantine is going to die—again—and it seems he has hell to look forward to.
But Constantine, played by Keanu Reeves in the movie that opens nationwide today, believes he can buy his way into heaven if he spends his time on earth blowing demons back to the netherworld.
Constantine can see demons because of a peculiar gift—the same gift that caused him youthful despair to the extent that he took his own life, only to be revived. Now, faith doesn’t apply to Constantine. He doesn’t have to believe there’s a heaven and hell; he knows.
Constantine is a chain-smoking nihilist who roams Los Angeles dealing with the occult, demonology, exorcisms and anything that reeks of evil. But his routine is interrupted when policewoman Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz) approaches him for help. Her twin sister, Isabel, has apparently committed suicide, and she wants his help uncovering the truth.
Constantine reluctantly gets involved, and their journey takes them even deeper into the evil underbelly of the City of Angels. Constantine is forced to do battle with the baddest baddie of them all, and in this kind of film, he needs brass knuckles engraved with crosses, a cross-shaped gun, and the advice of the angel Gabriel, played androgynously by Tilda Swinton.
Yes, “Constantine” is the kind of movie where even spiritual battles require guns, and where Satan himself wants something called the Spear of Destiny that has been wrapped in a Nazi flag somewhere in Mexico. That’s one of several story beats that is only superficially treated.
“Constantine” is literal and blunt, and it helps to remember its comic book origins. Even remembering that, however, doesn’t excuse a few scenes that are simply there for FX experimentation.
Most of the visuals, though, are welcomed. The style is genuinely cultivated, as one might expect from its music-video director, Francis Lawrence. Everyone has a washed-out look, all the buildings are dilapidated, and lots of glass gets shattered throughout the course of the film.
“Constantine” also borders on a horror flick at times. There are some intense moments, a few grotesque images, and a suicide theme that runs throughout.
Even though an off-the-wall theology underpins “Constantine,” the Warner Bros. movie (which has already opened well in Asia) offers some food for thought in the way of demons on earth being “influence peddlers.”
At one point, Constantine says to Angela: “What if I told you that God and the devil made a wager? A kind of standing bet for the souls of all mankind. No direct contact with humans. That would be the rule. Just influence. See who would win.”
Angela replies that it’s people who are really evil, and that she doesn’t believe in the devil.
“You should,” says Constantine. “He believes in you.”
“Constantine” is so specific in terms of its ideas and execution that it leaves little room for imagination, which would have been a good thing if it had really wanted to rattle folks. But it’s a comics adaptation, and that’s not its agenda.
It’s content to show us scary things instead of scare us with those things.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
MPAA Rating: R for violence and demonic images. Reviewer’s Note: As noted above, there are several intense moments and grotesque images, as well as an unrecognizable theology. It’s not your Sunday school screening.
Director: Francis Lawrence
Writers: Kevin Brodbin and Frank Cappello
Cast: John Constantine: Keanu Reeves; Angela/Isabel Dodson: Rachel Weisz; Chas: Shia LaBeouf; Midnite: Djimon Hounsou; Balthazar: Gavin Rossdale; Father Hennessy: Pruitt Taylor Vince; Gabriel: Tilda Swinton; Satan: Peter Stormare.
The movie’s official Web site is here.