A review of “Constantine” by James Harleman
Starring Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeaouf, Djimon Hounsou
Directed by Francis Lawrence
While Hollywood often pillages books, television and comic books for film ideas, voraciously mauling the source material beyond recognition, the process never ceases to amaze me. Particularly in light of recent comic book adaptations that have been so successful (“Spider-man” and “X-Men” come to mind, as well as lesser known “The Road to Perdition” and “From Hell”) I expected better from Francis Lawrence’s Constantine. For every nuanced Doctor Octopus, however, I guess there’s a Halle Berry in a ridiculous cat-suit waiting to pounce.
Although I fully engaged Constantine, expecting it to be completely divorced from its source material, I’ll take the time to rant briefly about Hollywood’s folly. The “Hellblazer” magazine, from which Constantine is derived, focuses on an over-the-hill British slacker in his mid-50s, with wild blonde hair and weathered looks, sporting a dirty brown trench coat, thick accent and the sarcastic bite of an urban Londoner, world-traveled yet typically found in a British pub drinking Guinness with his mates while enjoying Silk Cut cigarettes all the while embroiled in some nightmarish occult fiasco. Obviously Hollywood would translate this character into.a baby-faced Keanu Reeves, with tousled black hair, still wearing Matrix gear and set the movie against the lush European landscape of… downtown Los Angeles? About all they kept was the smoking habit, and even that gets turned into a two-hour advertisement for thetruth.com before movie’s end.
Our thoroughly Americanized John Constantine is a reluctant exorcist, attempting to earn enough merit to warrant salvation even when the angel Gabriel herself articulates that he quite clearly cannot. This has nothing to do with salvation by grace, of course, but simply a warped Catholic notion that since he committed suicide earlier in life and was dead for a few minutes he has committed a mortal sin for which he can’t atone. An equally awkward story point, amidst the lush Catholic trappings (which Hollywood falls back on when it thinks of Christianity, because it offers the most visual, ritualistic expression of religion, which is all most unbelievers think faith is about) is a cynical view of God and the devil, Heaven and Hell. It seems that God and the devil are merely cosmic, high-stakes gamblers rolling the dice for who can “win the most souls.” To the outsider, this assessment doesn’t surprise me, but it mistakenly assumes that Satan has a chance of winning, and that God is less than sovereign; I can fully understand why such a twisted understanding of the spiritual world leaves the non-Christian uneasy.
Though the comic turned film is not as bad as Catwoman, (there are some interesting visuals and cinematography) the story limps along with little substance. The acting is wooden and sub-par, as Keanu Reeves seems to be doing his best “Agent Smith” monotone impression throughout. And when “pure evil” is represented by rock stars posing as actors (like Gavin Rossdale) and a flat performance by Tilda Swinton, the conflict all around us turns out to be the audience… trying to stay awake.
The notion that the solution to the age-old war of good and evil rests on an understanding human “middle-ground” is simply droll in light of its arrogant anthropocentrism; in this paradigm God is apparently too strict, rigid and impersonal, and the devil is a little too wicked; golly, if only we could all get along! Please. if this were the real condition of the universe, we’d all hope for Buddhism so we could eventually become nothing, and avoid hanging out in either Hell OR Heaven. Praise God for the truth that our Savior is not the devil’s opposite, but his superior, and that God’s relationship is much more personal than this film seems to comprehend. In this film, John Constantine is the spiritual equivalent of the frustrated teen in his bedroom acting out because no one “gets” him.
Like the title character, “Constantine” as a film is caught between Heaven and Hell. in a lukewarm purgatory of mediocrity. Don’t waste your time giving it your indulgence.
“Can’t let them stop me… UGH! Must… GET… acting lessons…”