Audiences breathe a collective sigh of relief as they exit the theater after watching the latest comic-book-to-big-screen adaptation, Constantine. For some, this sigh could be relaxation after two hours of demonic visions of hell. Yet, for most, it is relief from hours of a regurgitated plot and bad acting.
John Constantine (Reeves) was born with the ability to see angels and demons that roam the earth in their human forms. When he was young, these visions troubled him and caused him to commit suicide. He died for two minutes before being resuscitated. Duing those two minutes, he experienced the flames of hell and never wanted to return. Thus, while doomed to roam the earthly jungle of disguised demons and fallen angels, he tries to earn the favor of God and avoid being sentenced to hell.
Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz) has her own problems. Her sister committed suicide by leaping off the top of a mental institution where she was a patient. However, Angela does not believe her devout Catholic sister would kill herself and begins to investigate her death. Angela’s psychic powers and mental connection to her sister lead her to Constantine. The two embark on a journey of man versus supernatural oddities.
That said, Constantine is a big disappointment. The plot had potential to be fresh and explore the darker side of religion. However, it loses steam and becomes a jumbled mess of religious jargon and convoluted theories. Also, it feels a bit stale. The exorcism scene pales in comparison to Linda Blair’s in the 1973 horror classic The Exorcist. Reeves battling wits with a sharply-dressed devil is straight out of The Devil’s Advocate. The Matrix is reenacted with dark-suited Constantine killing rooms full of demons. All that is missing are the black shades.
Reeves gives a standard performance. He is Neo from The Matrix, with a dash of Jack from Speed and lines delivered just about as cheesily as in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. If he wanted to avoid pigeonholing himself into an action leading man, he certainly chose the wrong film. However, if staying in the action genre keeps him from tackling roles that require real acting, audiences will never be subjected to another Sweet November or A Walk in the Clouds.
Weisz contributes a surprisingly good performance considering the material. She gives Angela sensibility and shows chemistry opposite Reeves.
Chas Chandler (Shia LeBeouf) is Constantine’s apprentice and attempts to provide comic relief. LeBeouf’s comedic endeavors flounder and come across trite. Former front man for the band Bush, Gavin Rossdale, is given little screen time as Balthazar. In addition, Djimon Hounsou is Midnite, a part too small for his acting talents.
Constantine is packed with special effects. The version of hell is certainly the most unpleasant brought to film to date. The morphing effects of the demons and angels are eerie, and the gross-out effects clearly do their job. The film does manage to capture an uneasy dark quality.
Although Constantine is based on the comic book Hellblazer, it is definitely no Spiderman. The subject matter is mystical, disturbing and violent. Leave the kids at home for this one. Actually, you may just want to stay at home, too.
Suspense, R, Running time: 121 min.