Constantine (2005)

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Tilda Swinton, Peter Stormare, Shia LaBeouf, Max Baker

Directed by: Francis Lawrence

Rating: 1 2 3 and a half

Keanu Reeves as exorcist John Constantine

Keanu Reeves hasn't exactly set the world on fire recently, but here he is really rather fine as John Constantine, a mean and moody exorcist from the Dekker/Blade school of no nonsense arse kicking. No fervent Father Merrin this, breaking his faith on the cusp of evil: Constantine has been to hell (literally, when he committed suicide as a teenager) and has now devoted his life to sending errant, sulphur smelly demons back there in an apparently vain attempt to buy his way into heaven.

Everything starts off promisingly enough, as our shabby suited, chain smoking hero wrests a 'soldier demon' from the body of a hissing spitting swearing little girl in the time it takes to smoke a tab. Growling, surly curly lipped, and posturing like Steve Vai, he throws a few impressive shapes before consigning the nasty beast to hell. Job's a good 'un, onto the next one.

Rachel Weisz as Angela Dodson in Constantine

Because earth, it transpires, has become a battleground, a chessboard set up for the endgame between God and the Devil, in which human pawns are surrounded by 'half breed' angels and demons fighting for our souls. Most people of course can't see them, but a chosen few can. Step up Constantine, together with glamorous detective Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz), whose twin sister Isabel has committed suicide to escape the demons.

And so Constantine, suffering from lung cancer and unable to negotiate an extension from his angelic mates, helps Angela locate her sister in hell (last seen as Sarah Connor's apocalyptic vision of the future in Terminator 2), only to uncover a terrible conspiracy between, um, the Devil's son and the Angel Gabriel, played rather brilliantly as an effete and androgynous intellectual by arch queen of the art movie, Tilda Swinton.

Better still, as events build up to a somewhat baffling climax and we've pretty much given up trying to work out what on earth (or indeed in hell) is going on, who should drop to earth but Satan himself, along to collect hell's most wanted man and check up on his wayward son at the same time. Urbane, cynical and camp as Noel Coward in a pink lamé tent, Satan (Peter Stormare) is Quentin Crisp masquerading as the Man from Del Monte, a white suited drama queen who doesn't so much steal the show as hijack it at gunpoint.

A vision of hell... Constantine walks through the inferno

But this surprise aside, Constantine falls slightly flat. A bit of a half breed itself, it's full of cool ideas that, unfortunately we've seen before. So the demons are clones of Iron Maiden's shambling monster Eddie, and are killed en masse by holy water in overhead sprinklers Blade stylee. Like the half breed vampire hunter, our hero comes equipped with some slick holy weaponry, supplied by the obligatory geeky inventor with inch thick glasses and mad hair, but in the end he has to fall back on the usual tools of the exorcist's trade: holy water, crucifixes and a lot of 'in nomine patris et filis et spiritus sanctus' - yup, it would appear that Latin is still definitely the language of choice in hell.

But if horror/fantasy movies are meant to reflect society's fears then what has Constantine got to say about the early 21st century? Well, whilst in 1970s classics like The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby, evil finds its way into our world because our minds have become closed to faith, religion and spirituality, 30 years on in Constantine our spiritual bankruptcy has become irrelevant. It doesn't matter if we don't believe in the Devil as long as he believes in us. Like Philip Pullman's Authority, God is almost redundant, a 'kid with an ant farm' sitting back and watching us squirm whilst letting the Devil get all the best lines.

In nomine patris... Constantine conducts an old school exorcism

And yet, bizarrely, the film does offer a final image of heavenly redemption (albeit marred by a cheap visual gag). Does Constantine realise that his final self sacrifice will save his soul? Perhaps he does, which makes it all the more an apt finale for a film in which good and evil are inextricably linked.

I really wanted to love Constantine. Keanu looks great, the concept is fascinating and the cast uniformally excellent. And yet, in the end, it just didn't move me that much. Like a cross between The Exorcist and The Crow, Constantine is stylish, cool and entertaining but, lacking the heart racing fear factor of the former and the emotional core of the latter, it never quite manages to chill the soul or take the breath away. There are, it would appear, more things on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in Hollywood...

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