Constantine

on February 18, 2005 by Christine James
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All Hell is breaking loose. Again. According to all manner of science fiction, the Devil is obsessed with taking over Earth and turning it into a wasteland of desolation and suffering. Only the Satanic scions in "Little Nicky" seemed to get it right -- instead of destroying our world, they indulged themselves in its most appealing offerings, namely vodka and pizza. But the consensus is that the Prince of Darkness won't be happy until he literally wreaks Hell on humankind. Imagine how disappointed he'll be when he finds out all of his favorite tortures have already been done on "Fear Factor." On the other hand, think of all the new horrors he'll devise after drawing inspiration from "Nanny 911" and "How Clean Is Your House?"

In "Constantine," Lucifer himself is content with the way things are, enjoying the aeons-old game of wooing souls to the dark side and casting them into the Inferno (here depicted as part monster-ridden mosh-pit, part post-apocalyptic junkyard). But his upstart son (only briefly glimpsed and resembling a CGI CryptKeeper) wants his own kingdom, and he has no problem betraying the Father of All Lies to get it. Because, well, he's the son of the Father of All Lies.

Only One Man can save us now. One Man, and one nubile young beauty with a talent for falling into any handy pool or bathtub while wearing sexy white tops. Together, they must thwart the demon uprising and flirt at wholly inopportune times.

Keanu Reeves is John Constantine, a rogue exorcist whose chainsmoking, caustic ways immediately tip us off that he's not helping out at the church bake sale by day. It is his steely, nothing-to-lose persona -- along with some James Bond-by-way-of-the-Necronomicon gadgets -- that makes him such a deadly opponent to all who would try to breach the balance of good and evil. His motive: to save his own doomed soul. (The angel Gabriel, played by Tilda Swinton as a Thin White Duke sort, pops in to offer Constantine the unasked-for opinion, "You're f---ed.")

Constantine is compelling, but Reeves goes for a little too much of the gravitas and not enough of the devil- may-care, so to speak. Rachel Weisz is less convincing as a cop with repressed psychic powers than she is as a girl in a wet blouse, and tends to smile coyly just when she should be fearing for her immortal soul. Early promises for utter terror (a monstrous-looking possessed girl crawling up a wall; an H.R. Giger-meets- "Mars Attacks" demon whose mere visage instantly turns an onlooker's hair white) don't pan out, with quick cuts feeling not like an artistic choice but a failed attempt to get a PG-13 rating (the producers did appeal the R to no avail). A more visceral approach might have upgraded "Constantine" from what in its present form feels more like a trip to heck and back. Starring Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Shia LeBeouf, Tilda Swinton, Djimon Hounsou and Gavin Rossdale. Directed by Francis Lawrence. Written by Kevin Brodbin and Frank Cappello. Produced by Lauren Shuler Donner, Benjamin Melniker, Michael E. Uslan, Erwin Stoff, Lorenzo DiBonaventura and Akiva Goldsman. A Warner Bros. release. SF/Thriller. Rated R for violence and demonic images. Running time: 121 min

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