By Mike Reiter
Short version: Very forgettable, but fun while it lasts. Unfortunately, a hole-riddled story squanders a thought provoking theme.
I guess there is something to be said for instincts. When I first saw the trailer for Constantine I thought the concept of a character devoted to destroying evil, but who was too tainted for heaven was an intriguing idea... however, the cartoon-like CGI demons set off my alarm bells. Now that I've seen the film, after two hours I find myself wishing the visuals had been the only deficiency.
For my money, the theme of Constantine is its greatest asset. Because it had such great potential, it?s poor execution is cause for even greater disappointment. Movies that tackle important subjects like "the meaning of life", "the reason for evil", and "the after-life" can cause one to reflect on a scene, a one-liner, or a captivating visual effect for months, even years later. Unfortunately you?ll be forgetting about this one on the way back to your car?
The plot also had real promise: A man with paranormal power, struggling to redeem himself to God and find meaning for Mankind?s very existence, stumbles upon a demonic plot to upset the balance of good and evil on earth. Sounds good so far, huh?
So how did Hollywood screw this up?! It?s hard for me to say whether it was the writing or the directing that was inept, but I suspect the latter. In any case, the result is a film not worthy of the subject matter. (Warning: spoilers ahead.)
Constantine (a freelance exorcist) crosses paths with a female police detective whose twin sister has just committed suicide. We learn later on that both women are psychic. At the same time, he notices a disturbing increase in the blatancy of demonic attacks. Meanwhile, the spear used during the crucifixion of Christ (the "Spear of Destiny") is found, and its discoverer possessed by evil. Still sounds good, right?! That?s what I was thinking 30 minutes into it.
The problem is that the various elements are not brought together in a consistent and cohesive story one can reasonably follow. For example, unseen spirits suddenly bludgeon one character to death. This is the only point in the film where they have such incredible "direct" power. Why?! I can concoct a reason why they might, but shouldn't the movie tell the flippin? story?
Equally bewildering is the subplot where an incredible evil is traveling from Mexico (!?), where a homeless man accidentally discovers the aforementioned spear in a hollow in the ground, wrapped in a Nazi flag. My mind could not process how or why:
A. Nazis would be in possession of the spear (except for, you know, Nazis are bad).
B. They would go transatlantic and hide it in Mexico.
The looming threat of this seemingly indestructible evil adds suspense and excitement, but its execution creates more inconsistencies and confusion.
The acting was a non-factor. No one was so bad as to break my immersion into the film, however, no performance particularly stood out either. In going for a dark feel, many of the characters came across as simply being tired... which kind of worked actually! The characters that did shatter my immersion were the virtual ones. Here are a couple of hints for the special effects team... Please write these down and don?t ever do them again: When all the characters look exactly the same, that?s bad. When they all also move exactly the same, that?s bad too. Good rendering just ain?t enough post-Lord of the Rings. Now scurry along and go do it the right way.
There was one redeeming FX scene, however: A mass of insects possessed by a demon form a humanoid creature to attack Constantine. Nice special effect, but a note to the director: Crabs are not really insects, and where the heck did they come from anyway?!
And finally, why did Satan appear as a middle-aged disco reject with muddy feet? Did he possess a body from an earlier scene? This had me lost (and laughing), but here, as in the rest of the film, there was almost enough action to take my mind off such messy little things as consistency and cohesiveness.