Sunday, August 14, 2005

Jesus, Reeves

I went into Constantine (2005) perfectly willing to accept Keanu Reeves as a demon-hunter. After all, his career has assumed more than a whiff of the messianic, with its more obvious manifestations--Neo (a.k.a. The One) in the Matrix movies, and, lest we forget, Siddhartha (ak.a. The Buddha) in Little Buddha (1993)--as well as less overt saviors who nonetheless press their lips together and, well, save: football from itself in The Replacements (2000), and Sandra Bullock from Dennis Hopper in Speed (1994). And, I am happy to say, next year he will be literally animated by Richard Linklater in his adaptation of Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly, in which Keanu will save America from its addiction to better homeland security through chemicals. So I was not the least surprised to see him as John Constantine, demon hunter.

I enjoyed Constantine for a number of reasons. First, it's about Catholics a-exorcisin' and a-demon-slayin'. I was puzzled by Roger Ebert's review of this movie, in which he wondered why you never see movies with Episcopalians or Presbyterians TCB-ing Satan and his minions. He went to Catholic school, and then watched a gazillion movies, so I know Ebert was kidding; he knows that if you want to thwart the Evil Underlord, you need REAL old-time religion: mystical Buddhist monks with better kung fu than anyone, Talmud-toting mystics carving the right word into the Golem's forehead to set him off crushing Christian oppressors, pyramid-dwelling immortal high priests keeping a lid on restless mummies--and the Holy Roman Catholic Church spraying holy water like Napalm. Durn tootin' it burns.

Also, Constantine and its titular hero have attitude to, ahem, burn (I'll try to stop such not-so-bon mots). Demons without brains--absolutely!--demons made of bugs, demons trapped by mirrors--shades of Dracula--and hey! Reeves was Jonathan Harker in Coppola's version of Bram Stoker's novel; another recruit in the Holy War--and Hell depicted as our world laid to waste. And moping and coughing and striding then stumbling through all this is John Constantine, who knows the score but still moves forward. Once again, an American hero gloms onto Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, the Last Boy Scout Standing, sick to death--literally, in Constantine's case, as lung cancer and the sheer weight of all those demons put a constant slump to his shoulders--but soldiering on anyway, "past all concerns." (MINOR SPOILER ALERT) I even dug it when, during his aborted assumption to Heaven, Constantine remembers to half-turn and give Satan the finger. You tell 'im, Keanu. And I know it's all supremely silly, but, while this movie sometimes takes itself seriously, it also enjoys itself WITHOUT getting caught up in too much irony.

The result for me is another oddly affecting Reeves performance. I have a soft spot for the kid, one that, as it does for other Reeves apologists, goes all the way back to Bill and Ted. I don't know if Reeves wants to put the role behind him, but Ted Logan peeks like Kilroy through every Reeves performance, a kind of easy-going determination that never quite winks at the camera--as Bruce Willis does, with alternately satisfying and irritating results--but still shakes its head and smiles at itself. It's guileless, and maybe sometimes too earnest, but Reeves in the end is like Brendan Fraser, whose own brand of California doofus-cool also redeems weak material. So while Constantine may be more of a groan than I'd like to admit, Keanu Reeves and company (and if you doubt the Five-Minute Rule--"every okay movie has at least five perfect minutes"--check out Peter Stomare as Satan) and all those kickin' anti-demon devices keep me on the narrow path to one bitchin' salvation, dude.

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