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Photograph by David James

Kitchen-Sink Apocalypse Drama: Keanu Reeves is definitely smoking something in the new Gnostic thriller 'Constantine.'

Hellboyish

'Constantine': Beware, Demon, the power of Keanu himself commands you!

By Richard von Busack

Keanu Reeves has walked the shadow line between reality and the unreal so many times that he has corns. Prior to Constantine--a long but entertaining Gnostic heaven-and-hell comic-book adventure--I'd never really understood the purpose of Reeves' unacting. Dressed in that Jean-Pierre Melville uniform of black suit and skinny tie, Reeves plays the Vertigo Comics antihero John Constantine. The cancer-riddled metaphysical detective is consulted by a police officer, Angela (Rachel Weisz), whose twin sister has committed suicide. The death is connected to the reappearance of the infamous Spear of Destiny--you may remember it from its pivotal role in The Passion of the Christ--which has been excavated from a church in the Mexican desert.

Quickly, Constantine convinces Angela of the bad news: the war between heaven and hell is real, though it's currently a cold war--"the détente of the original superpowers." Visiting angels and devils are agents provocateurs in the longstanding wager to see who can harvest the most souls. Probably not since Christopher Walken in The Prophecy has there been such an emphasis on the filial resentment between angels and men. As the fanatical, condescending angel Gabriel, Tilda Swinton is a treat--wrapped in Bowiean arrogance and androgyny, though adorned with an unfortunate pair of prop wings the filmmakers should have done without.

Novice director Francis Lawrence did Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me a River" video. Unlike most ex-video directors, Lawrence doesn't go nuts with the editing and faux-urban attitude, and Reeves' nonplussed face matches the fairly sober tone of the film, giving the more extravagant actors more fun. The computer graphics are hit and miss, but there's an interesting idea on display: the thought of hell co-existing in space with Los Angeles. Constantine scopes out the inferno by staring deeply into the slitted eyes of a cat. Hell is apparently L.A. in midfirestorm: still-gridlocked cars abraded by acid smog, burning palm trees tossed about by Satan's own Santana winds. Constantine needs a better look, so he takes a squat in an electric chair supervised by Papa Midnite. Midnight is the Lord of the Crossroads, under any name; Djimon Hounsou acts for the first time with a sense of wit that's more important than his stunning physique.

Happily, His Satanic Majesty turns up. The role is a holiday for any actor, but Peter Stormare goes to town with it: shaved eyebrows, mucky crippled feet, tribal tattoos peeka-booing from the neck of his white suit. It's a lovely on-his-own-wavelength performance. One wonders why, ever since Jack Nicholson in The Witches of Eastwick, movies have suggested that there's something wrong with the devil's neck--a few extra vertebrae that could use the service of a chiropractor. As he thrashes demons and matches wits with Gabriel, Reeves is so distracted he might as well be fretting over what he'll have for lunch. If he'd been morose, in terror of the pit, Constantine probably would have been a shuddering bore.


Constantine (R; 117 min.), directed by Francis Lawrence, written by Kevin Brodbin and Frank Cappello, photographed by Philippe Rousselot and starring Keanu Reeves and Rachel Weisz, opens Friday countywide.

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From the February 16-23, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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