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ISSUE 118 VOL 13 PUBLISHED 3/11/2005

Exorcising demons

By Byron Vierk
Staff Writer

Friday, March 11, 2005

Keanu Reeves is the sort of actor who seems designed for certain roles. Like Kevin Costner before him, Reeves is a quintessential “niche actor,” able to define a role or to destroy it completely. Fortunately for Reeves, his newest film, “Constantine” (an adaptation of the DC Comics cult classic “Hellblazer”) is more like “The Matrix” than “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”

“Constantine’s” basic storyline will sound more than a little familiar to even casual sci-fi fans: God and the Devil have made a wager for control of the souls of human beings. Both are unable to interfere directly, but through possession and persuasion, Heaven and Hell are waging a private war for the control of human destiny.

Reeves is John Constantine, a heavy-smoking, cynical and sarcastic self-proclaimed “Part-Time Exorcist” who, thanks to a near-death experience, has the power to see and intervene in the silent war between good and evil.

Reeves’ monotone delivery and almost vacant stare actually do justice to his character’s true identity. Constantine’s awareness of demons and angels from a young age has driven him to attempt suicide, and he was briefly dead. As any good Catholic will tell you, a suicide attempt damns a soul to hell – a fate Constantine is trying to avoid by “deporting” as many demons back to Hell as he can to curry favor with Heaven. Viewers learn early that the clock is ticking for Constantine; Heaven won’t have him back and terminal lung cancer will kill him within a year. Amidst all his personal turmoil, Reeves is thrown together with a cop (Rachel Weisz), who is investigating the apparent suicide of her twin sister.

Of course, there’s a large, deep and sinister reason behind Weisz’s sister’s suicide, stretching all the way down to Hell and back. Former music video director and rookie film director Francis Lawrence brings us along for the ride, and his scenes in Hell are eerily disturbing. One could fault Lawrence for working hard to get Reeves for the role of Constantine when many other actors could have fit the role more accurately.

However, while Reeves’ limited acting abilities can’t truly capture the inner struggle for humanity within Constantine in the comic, he and Weisz do work extremely well together, and the gradual trust and affection that grows between them is believable.

Perhaps the most surprising performance in the entire film is Bush lead singer Gavin Rossdale’s debut performance as the sleazy and devilish Balthazar, one of Satan’s top demons. Dressed in a pinstripe Italian suit and equipped with eyes that feature computer-enhanced red irises, he loses out only to Lucifer himself (in a brilliant and smugly-performed turn by Peter Stormare) in entertainment value.

While the story is clichéd at times and the mood screams “style over substance,” Constantine is a thoroughly entertaining, demon-stomping good time. Those expecting to be moved emotionally or thoughtfully inspired have obviously not seen any other Keanu Reeves movies. For those who approach Constantine with the same expectations as those for movies like “Starship Troopers” or “X-Men,” you’re in for a hell of a good time.

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