John Constantine (Reeves) is a man gifted or rather cursed with the ability to see the "half-breed" demons and angels that walk the Earth. More interested in exorcising demons, he's reluctant to help police detective Angela (Weisz) investigate the sui
Keanu reeves does a good 'pissed off'. He may be an actor of, shall we say, limited range, but when a look of slight confusion and handsome disgruntlement is needed, he's your man. As such, he slips easily into the role of netherworld-weary demon-slayer John Constantine. Or, at least, the movie version of John Constantine.
Those familiar with the caustic, mouthy blond Liverpudlian of the Hellblazer comic-book series may be disappointed with this moodier, more laconic Californian version. But to those who couldn't care less about graphic-novel faithfulness, he's a terrifically miserable sod. His demon-slaying is merely to facilitate his entry into Heaven and avoid a trip downstairs as punishment for the mortal sin of suicide (from which he was unwillingly resuscitated), and if he should improve the lives of mankind along the way, well, that can't be helped.
The fact that he's an inhabitant of abstinent LA who smokes like George Burns after a three-day orgy, leaving him riddled with lung cancer, is the icing on the rotten cake. He makes Batman look like a highly caffeinated T4 presenter. Reeves plays Constantine as Neo minus the self-importance. He is, for the most part, humourless, only occasionally hurling the odd dagger of wit, which he throws away with louche abandon, rather than delivering it Arnie-style over a bullet-ridden corpse.
In fact, rather than the all-action, quick-talking demon apocalypse you'd think this storyline demands, this is more a movie of mood than moment. Set-pieces are effectively brief and scattered rather than constant CGI aggressions, while interest is maintained by both a persistent fear that something wicked this way comes and a plot that, while sometimes confusing, is always inventive. Where other movies might dwell on a holy water-drenched battle with half-human/half-demon hordes, or the dispatching of screeching, winged evils, Constantine keeps them short and sharp, in a way befitting an anti-hero who'd rather not be there if he didn't absolutely have to.
Through the sweeping lens of Francis Lawrence (the music video director behind Britney Spears' sweaty-walled I'm A Slave 4 U, among others), Constantine's world is eerily beautiful to behold. Hell is a parallel dimension, accessed via a cat and a puddle (the script is full of such welcome quirks), scorched and teeming with spindly, half-decapitated nasties. The real world is only a little better, imbued with a sense of stylish, Fincher-esque dankness. To complement the overall sombre tone, there's tremendous wit in the details, particularly in the anti-hero's choice of weaponry, be it crucifix-etched knuckle-dusters or a cross-shaped shotgun.
However, all the sophistication of the presentation isn't quite enough to cover up shortcomings in the script, which could have delved more into the lives of the footsoldiers embroiled in this battle between the forces of good and evil. The characters disrupting Constantine's life are enticing, yet in most cases distant. Weisz crumbles gently as the detective who's haunted by her sister's death, but the character is undeniably flimsy, while Swinton's elegant, androgynous Gabriel could do with more flesh on his/her/its wings. One part should have been completely jettisoned, and that's the glaringly misjudged comedy sidekick, Chas (LaBeouf). He disrupts the tone whenever he's on screen, his presence making no sense alongside a confirmed loner like John Constantine.
Slender supports aside, though, Constantine is a wry pleasure, thankfully free of much of the redemptive cuddliness that can blight even the darkest blockbuster. You can't go too far wrong with a movie where the hero would much rather kiss up to a Marlboro than the leading lady.
While lacking the richness of its source material, it remains an enjoyable, immoral and sometimes beautifully Gothic tale.