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Film review

The road through hell

It's paved with gory inventions in Constantine, a supernatural concoction that's brewed to horrify audiences, but appears barely able to keep star Keanu Reeves awake.

By STEVE PERSALL
Published February 17, 2005


photo
[Photo: Warner Bros.]
Keanu Reeves stars in Constantine.

Never, ever, sit with a cat on your lap and your feet immersed in a pot of water. You'll go straight to hell. That's what happens when Keanu Reeves tries it in Constantine, a garish mass of theological mumbo jumbo bathed in blood and demon innards.

Reeves ineptly plays John Constantine, a cross between Philip Marlowe and Father Merrin, tracking down damned souls trying to escape Satan's clutches before they infect heaven. He's a chain smoker dying of lung cancer; the coughing fits are the only challenges to Reeve's somnambulant style of acting. Constantine is destined for hell but plans to massacre enough demons that the pearly gates will swing open.

What happens before that ascension is impossibly complex. There's a religious artifact hidden by Nazis and discovered by a Mexican scavenger. It has something to do with the rebirth of Satan's son, who'll horn in on his dad's business. Somehow a beautiful (naturally) detective whose sister apparently committed suicide figures in what will be a messy C-section. Constantine wanders through Hades a few times and brandishes a crucifix-shaped shotgun for blasting demons. Just wait until Satan shows up, in an embarrassingly overripe turn by Peter Stormare.

We get plenty of discussions of good and evil, with Scripture lifted out of context and sounding like Stephen King wrote it. Mostly, we get scenes devised for no reason than to try to be scary. My favorite is an eye-rolling priest (Pruitt Taylor Vince) psychically fondling weeks of newspaper sections to retrieve information about a suicide. Kind of creepy, but the suicide happened only a day before, so it's in today's paper. Why check the rest?

First-time director Francis Lawrence is a music video veteran and it shows. Constantine exists only for its visual effectiveness, and some of the edits are sharp enough to make viewers jump. Any emotional content is dwarfed by the overblown computer-generated images of molting demons and scorched landscapes. This is as empty as a jam-packed screen can be.

All that was missing in the theater was the cat and the water pot.

Constantine

Grade: D

Director: Francis Lawrence

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf, Djimon Hounsou, Tilda Swinton, Peter Stormare, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Gavin Rossdale

Screenplay: Kevin Brodbin, Frank Capello, based on the DC Comics/Vertigo graphic novel Hellblazer

Rating: R; strong violence, gore, profanity

Running time: 121 min.

[Last modified February 16, 2005, 08:33:04]


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