Constantine (February 17/05)
Constantine is just about the best-looking mediocre movie to come around in a long while. Director Francis Lawrence (along with cinematographer Philippe Rousselot) imbues the film with a slick, Fincheresque sense of style that's far more intriguing than anything the screenplay has to offer. The storyline, despite the best efforts of everyone involved, just isn't engaging, primarily because it's so ludicrous (unreasonably so).
Keanu Reeves stars as John Constantine, a hard-drinking, chain-smoking detective who's been cursed (that's the way he sees it, anyway) with the ability to see the angels and demons that walk the earth. He uses this gift to conquer evil in its many forms, but not for entirely selfless reasons (he's trying to buy his way into Heaven). Constantine finds an unlikely ally in the form of Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz), whose repressed clairvoyance has made her an ideal vehicle for no less than the son of Satan to assume human form.
Generally speaking, movies that involve the Devil's efforts to cross over into our world fare best when there's some basis in reality (ie The Omen and Reeves' The Devil's Advocate). But Constantine takes a leap out the plausibility window early on, something presumably dictated by the comic book that the film is based on. As a result, it's impossible to connect with the storyline or the plight of the film's human characters (one would think that this premise worked a whole lot better on the page). There's no real sense of momentum at work here; Constantine feels more like a series of vignettes loosely strung together (some far more effective than others) than a linear, cohesive film.
Having said that, the movie never quite becomes a disaster of Catwoman-like proportions thanks to Lawrence's intriguing directorial choices and the uniformly superb performances - starting with, of course, Reeves. Reeves does a nice job of distancing himself from The Matrix trilogy by playing Constantine as an exceedingly grizzled figure (smart choice, given that the man can literally see demons), while the supporting cast is peppered with a host of familiar faces (Peter Stormare even pops up as Satan, delivering a flamboyant performance that's easily the highlight of the film).
Constantine's not necessarily a bad movie; aside from some surprisingly shoddy computer effects, the film is well made and kind of entertaining. But in this age of stellar comic book adaptations (ie the X-Men and Spider-Man series), that's just not enough.