Journey into hell

Keanu Reeves wears a black suit and a tired scowl throughout much of Constantine, a campy, pleasing adaptation of the Hellblazer comic book that makes the most of Reeves’ often unexciting acting abilities and habit

Keanu Reeves wears a black suit and a tired scowl throughout much of Constantine, a campy, pleasing adaptation of the Hellblazer comic book that makes the most of Reeves’ often unexciting acting abilities and habit of starring in enjoyable offbeat films.

Infinitely better than those weak Matrix sequels, Constantine is a satisfying thriller that doubles as a scornful critic of the religious system.

The plot contends that God and the Devil have a standing bet for the souls of mankind. A meditation on good and evil, Constantine starts off as a philosophical debate on man’s inherent nature. Heaven and hell are bystanders awaiting the end, with only half-breed angels and demons scattered amongst the living as overseers.

Cursedly given the ‘gift’ to see these intermixed beings is John Constantine. Tormented with his Sixth Sense-like ability as a teenager, Constantine attempted suicide only to realize his visions were agonizingly real and he’s damned to an afterlife in hell.

Nowadays – and in between cigarettes – John Constantine spends his time evicting minions of hell who try to cross over into our world. He’s hoping that enough vanquished demons will earn him back the spot in heaven he forfeited.

Constantine is bitter at the world. He’s resentful that his mistake has doomed him to an eternity in hell and lung cancer is the thing that’s sending him there.

When police officer Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz) shows up investigating the death of her twin sister, Constantine finds himself on a mission that sends him to hell and back. Trying to prevent Satan’s son Mammon from taking over the earth, Constantine is fighting for the salvation of mankind, but will it even offer him his own chance at redemption?

In spite of his much-maligned thespian skills, Reeves has managed to carve out a Hollywood career riddled with success. From the absurdly entertaining Point Break to the dizzying heights of Speed and The Matrix, Reeves continues to put out films that are engaging, turn a profit and don’t earn him a modicum of respect. Arriving in Hollywood as stoner Ted Logan in the Bill & Ted series did nothing to aid his efforts, but has there been an actor more prosperous and less esteemed since Schwarzenegger?

Admittedly better suited for roles that don’t require a great range, Reeves fits right in as John Constantine. Unfortunately, it’ll do little to dissuade his detractors. Constantine is a character who needs only two distinguishing traits to work, his permanently stained-on glare coupled with a dry sarcastic wit, but Reeves manages both capably.

Weisz, Shia LeBeouf (mimicking his I, Robot sidekick role) and Djimon Hounsou offer dependable supporting characters that give Constantine an added spark. But it’s the overwhelming atmosphere of fate instilled by first time director Francis Lawrence that makes Constantine the most watchable.

Constantine knows he is resigned to failure. He’s not the least bit anticipating his own salvation; actually expecting all his sacrifices to be in vain. He’s heading for hell and in the end, that’s what makes it so much fun to be on his side.

Brian Mulligan can be reached at mulligan@temple.edu.

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