TIME (US), February 14, 2005


Caught Between Heaven and Hell

by Richard Corliss

Halfway through Constantine, a fully clad Keanu Reeves steps into a shallow pail of water, sits on a chair next to it and holds a cat in his lap. Any actor who can retain his charisma in this weird-silly moment--can keep us watching, and admiring his dutiful nonchalance--deserves to be called a movie star.

In this adaptation of a renowned graphic novel, Reeves is an L.A. detective whose job involves casting devils out of Angelenos. (He's the detexorcist!) He has to deal with both demons and angels, who in the normal state of affairs influence humans without directly interfering. But now, with the discovery of a long-lost artifact--the spear that killed Jesus on Calvary--the familiar rules don't apply, and an Armageddon- like battle is on.

Taking The Da Vinci Code's obsession with Catholic arcana a step further, Constantine is a one-of-a-kind hybrid: a theological noir action film. And until it goes irrevocably goofy at the end, it's a smart ride--and smart-looking too, with rich browns predominant.

Director Francis Lawrence (from music videos, of course) shoots a scene from every possible angle--curbside, bird's-eye view--so that the cameramen have to be stuntmen. There's both eye and mind candy in this cleverly berserk spawn of Blade Runner.

Surrounded by real actors (Tilda Swinton at her most immaculately decadent as the angel Gabriel, pinwheeling Peter Stormare as Satan, Rachel Weisz as The Girl), Reeves holds his own, creating a force field around his watchful entropy. In his early years, he may have been only a nerd's idea of a hip guy. Now, at 40, he has achieved a freon-cool satori, which makes him the perfect, still center of a visually agitated, intellectually restless movie.




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