I can see where CONSTANTINE, based on the graphic novel Hellblazer, might have seemed like a good idea for a movie. Good versus evil on a cosmic scale, special effects whipping across the screen with a wild abandon not unlike the whirlwind to be found in the second circle of Hell, and a cynical anti-hero who knows hes damned for all time, but fights the good fight anyway. What were talking here is high concept. And that, of course, is also the Achilles heel There is that particular breed of filmmaker who sees the high concept and assumes that the follow through will take care of itself. There may be a special room in Hell for such filmmakers, but its the audience that suffers the agonies of the damned by having to sit through it.
John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) is a freelance exorcist who can dispatch a possessing demon with either a time-honored ritual or a mean right hook without breaking a sweat. In his latest case, though, the demon in question isn’t behaving exactly the way it should. It’s trying to come through to this plane, which is a big no-no according to the game that God and Satan are playing. In fact, there are a lot of things not behaving exactly the way that they should, which, of course, portends the apocalypse. That and the Spear of Destiny popping up wrapped in a Nazi flag in Mexico. Constantine, though, soon becomes more concerned about the comely police detective (Rachel Weisz) whose devout twin sister may or may not have committed suicide by taking a header off the hospital where she’d been confined in the psychiatric wing. The sisters aren’t so much insane as psychic, and that gift, a particularly strong one, is attracting all the wrong kinds of occult attention.
Director Francis Lawrence does a fine job of immersing the audience into a universe where the veil between this world and all the others is gossamer thin, but having done that, he seems to think that his work is done. There is a peculiar lack of energy to even the most kinetic of sequences. The resulting lethargy serves to lull the audience into an almost trance-like state, an effect reinforced by the efforts of Reeves, who, whether visiting Hell in search of a lost soul or ordering a cup of coffee never evinces the slightest change of expression, much less inflection of the husky whisper that marks his delivery. The monsters, for their part, even a demon made up of various sorts of vermin and, for reasons I cannot fathom, a crab, are more grotesquely fascinating than terrifying.
Basically what we have here is a waste of a truckload of eye-popping special effects that are equal parts Dore and Blake with just a dash of Franzetta. Its also a waste of Rachel Weisz, who has been toned down to the thespian equivalent of beige, and of Tilda Swinton, who for the 10 or so glorious minutes that she is on screen provides the only sort of emotional fire to be found as a dark-winged half-breed who has a intensely loopy sort of divine zeal that makes him (or her, its not clear) a real stickler for equally divine rules. In CONSTANTINE, the humor is never quite funny, the drama, never quite compelling, the plot never quite cogent, and the terror never quite effective. All in all, it’s more like limbo than either Heaven or Hell.