Last week Warner Bros. Constantine (review #1, #2) blasted in over $30 million in it’s opening weekend- and there’s a reason. First, it’s rated “R” and none of the integrity was cut and two, the reviews were astonishing. Dimension Films’ Cursed (five new crappy clips here) on the other hand has nothing but negativity spreading- even from Wes Craven himself! The movie wasn’t screened for critics and we all know what that means. My advice, see ‘Constantine,’ I think Lyle would agree. Read on for his review!
By: Lyle Henretty
The comparison of “Constantine” with “The Matrix” that critics have been driving into the ground is obvious enough and shouldn’t be re-hashed. The movies are similar on the surface, but the cold assurance of the original “Matrix” is quite different from the gritty, grandiose gore of the Heaven vs. Hell smack-down of “Constantine.” The newer film sets out to create a fun, violent mythology of passive beacons of good and evil, where strict religious rules seem to govern over movie tried-and-true of “just do your best.”
Keanu Reeves’ John Constantine is a mercenary doing God’s work by sending wayward demons back to Hell. See, Heaven and Hell both have minions on Earth, here to suggest to humans to do good or evil, but those demi-gods-and-devils are not allowed to interfere, only suggest the path to enlightenment/damnation. The unseen God and the slippery, greasy devil (Peter Stromare) seem to have no real control over their legions, who run hog wild waiting for Constantine to further their passage back to the netherworld.
While this is obviously goof-ball sacrilege 101, it’s so much fun to watch the action that by the time Constantine is given shavings from bullets used in the Pope’s assassination attempt to combat evil, you won’t even care. Constantine’s giant-barreled crucifix-gun, his assistant/apprentice (Shia LaBeouf) who drives around in an old cab, psychic twins, and an androgynous archangel (Tilda Swinton), and hordes upon hordes of literally brainless demons create such a vivid comic-book landscape that director Francis Lawrence must be commended for his light touch on the faux-heady material.
The loose plot brings in police detective Rachel Weisz (of “The Mummy” franchise), trying to prove her psychic twin-sister didn’t commit suicide, thus earning a one-way ticket to Hell (she is, of course, a Catholic). In her desperation, she turns to Constantine, who can cross over and check the roll of the damned. Meanwhile, Constantine’s buddy Father Hennessy (Pruitt Taylor Vince) begins to realize Weisz and her dead sis are part of a larger conspiracy to bring about the age of the anti-christ, and that demon Balthazar (Bush front-man Gavin Rothsdale, wearing a pinstriped suit and flipping a giant coin).
The effects in “Constantine” are surprisingly well-done. While certainly the CGI-phobes out there will say that it looks fake at times, I’m not personally sure what demons-sans-frontal-lobes eating someone is supposed to look like. Nothing seems too pixilated, and Hell is an interesting, windswept wasteland of abandoned cars and screaming souls. It was kinda like Hell in “Bones,” only with more space and less Snoop Dogg. Some of the make-up effects are surprisingly grisly, and when combined with CGI (such as when Balthazar shows what he’s really made of), it can be quite effective.
The acting is strong all around. Reeves understands that playing an over-the-top character seriously can be done with wit, and his Constantine is the perfect conflicted-comic-book hero who never becomes silly or tedious. LaBeouf is nice comic relief, and he has good chemistry with Reeves, which is a trick, because Reeves really never has chemistry with anyone. In smaller roles, Rothsdale and Swinton are great, if underused. Best of all is Stromare, who plays his few minutes as Satan as a great performance piece. He gets the biggest laugh in the movie by doing the opposite of what you’d expect the devil to do, making Satan like a lover in some sort of psycho-sexual power-play with
The film, however, isn’t perfect. Pacing is a little off, and the runtime a little long (kinda draggy in the middle). It is directed by a first-time film director fresh off of some music videos, and it shows. These are small quibbles, however, as I think this could be the start of a beautiful franchise. “Constantine” does not set out to be a mind-blowing action extravaganza, or a thoughtful religious piece, but a cool action/horror comic adaptation, and it executes its goal with near perfection. A good time will be had by all, presuming you don’t end up being devoured by demons.