Every day Robert Saucedo shines a spotlight on a movie either so bad it’s good or just downright terrible. Today: Shhh! I’m watching Keanu.
Five years ago, Constantine showed the world that you could take a comic book, alter it in ways that make it almost completely unrecognizable to fans of said comic and still create a pretty badass movie.
If anything, Constantine shows the power of crafting an enjoyable popcorn flick using paint-by-numbers filmmaking.
Take one world-wary hero, add a fish-out-of-water love interest, mix in a bit of over-the-top villainy and you’ve got a larger-than-life extravaganza of special effects and supernatural shenanigans.
I apologize for the use of such tired clichés in describing the gist of Constantine, but that is exactly what this Keanu Reeves’ vehicle is: a full-throttle, high-octane cliché that is still a blast to watch.
Loosely based on the long-running DC/Vertigo comic book Hellblazer, Constantine stars Reeves as John Constantine, a magic-wielding exorcist in search of redemption.
With a cigarette consistently perched in his mouth, Constantine battles the forces of darkness in an attempt to gain favor with the Big Man in the Sky.
Despite his near-constant duty as a supernatural border patrol agent, his actions are not enough to earn him a spot in the heavenly kingdom and, unfortunately, his time is running out.
Diagnosed with cancer, Constantine is set for a one-way ticket to hell when he dies — due to a botched suicide attempt earlier in his life.
Meanwhile, events are transpiring elsewhere that shed light on a massive conspiracy involving a powerful demon’s ascension onto Earth.
Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz in a charming performance) finds herself connected to the satanic undertakings occurring underfoot when her twin sister commits suicide. Fate — or a poorly written plot device, depending on how gullible you are feeling —brings Angela and Constantine together to fight side by side against the forces that threaten to break the balance of good and evil and bring hell to Earth.
If you are confused after reading that plot description, don’t worry. So was I the first time I watched the film. Constantine is a muddled mass of a movie that manages to at least look wonderful.
Director Francis Lawrence cut his teeth in the world of music videos and it shows. The film is brought to life with a vivid enthusiasm aided by what amounted to cutting-edge computer effects for 2005.
The colors of Los Angeles pop out, bringing a sharp contrast to the muted darkness of Constantine’s world. The decadence and decay of Hell is showcased in a scene in which Constantine must transverse Damnation in search of Angela’s sister. Apparently, Hell looks a lot like L.A.’s 101 freeway. Meanwhile, Heaven resembles the sprawling towers of Los Angeles’ skyscraper district. The director obviously put a lot of thought into planning out the visual aspects of the film and it shows in each frame.
Unfortunately for Lawrence, looks aren’t everything and it is in story that Constantine finds itself lacking. Full of pesky plot holes and unexplained foolishness, the film is a mess of borrowed ideas and grandiose, gratuitous action.
Even though Reeves never dons long underwear and a cape, Constantine is a superhero movie through and through.
Although his deadpan performance stretches his acting prowess beyond that of a perpetual confused grimace, Reeves’ bad-boy persona is not enough to elevate Constantine above the cornucopia of clichéd plot happenstance.
When battling a hoard of demons, Constantine pulls out a “holy shotgun” and transforms the film from a somewhat intriguing puzzle into a gratuitous gunfight. If the idea of a shotgun attached to a crucifix seems hokey to you, get ready for a scene in which Constantine slips on a pair of brass knuckles adorned with the sign of the cross.
Regardless of weapons that would make Bibleman blush, the film remains a lot of fun — even five years after its release. Lawrence, who would later direct Will Smith in I Am Legend, does an admirable job of setting atmosphere and mashing together some pretty heady concepts with a fun B-movie flair.
The film’s shining moment lies with the introduction of character actor Peter Stormare as Satan.
Stormare is perhaps the actor with the best shot of competing with Christopher Walken as “Most Likely to Eat Babies.” Donned in a pristine white suit, feet dripping with tar, Stormare’s Satan oozes with unapologetic creepiness. Utilizing the whole of his face as a performance tool, Stormare has forevermore personified evil in my opinion.
Constantine is an enjoyable gem of an action blockbuster. Unfortunately, instead of rising to the top and meeting its potential, Constantine feels the need to wade in mediocrity. If you haven’t seen the film yet, watch it for the pretty pictures, but check any expectations at the door.
Robert Saucedo is the one soul Peter Stormare would come up here to collect. Follow him on Twitter @robsaucedo2500.
Robert Saucedo is an avid movie watcher with seriously poor sleeping habits. The Mikey from Life cereal of film fans, Robert will watch just about anything — good, bad or ugly. He has written about film for newspapers, radio and online for the last 10 years. This has taken a toll on his sanity — of that you can be sure. Follow him on Twitter at @robsaucedo2500.