Heaven. Hell. Us humans in the middle. It's all very complicated. But John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) seems to have a handle on it. Born with a gift he says no human should ever have he has the ability to see what he calls "half-breeds"--angels and demons that walk the earth in human skin (and apparently there are a lot of them). Of course the horror of it is too much to bear and Constantine tries to take his own life. But he fails. Now having been to hell and back again quite literally Constantine is marked as an attempted suicide with a temporary lease on life. He patrols the earthly border between heaven and hell acting as an exorcist of sorts. Of course the guy isn't doing it because he feels empathy for the human race or anything. It's for purely selfish reasons. He hopes that if he sends the devil's foot soldiers back to the depths he'll gain some kind of redemption a free get-out-of-jail card so to speak. Constantine's attitude changes however when a skeptical police detective Angela (Rachel Weisz) enlists his help in solving the mysterious death of her beloved twin sister. They end up uncovering a twisted master plan brewing between the demons and angels which could bring about a catastrophic series of otherworldly events. Perfect.
John Constantine is a little like The Matrix's Neo--an ultra-cool but tormented man of little words with a sardonic fatalistic outlook on life who kicks a myriad of nasty-looking demons (instead of a myriad of nasty-looking machines) back from whence they came. Yes Reeves has done this before but that's because he's good at it. You can't blame him for sticking with something that works. Weisz also holds her own as the devoutly religious Angela who nonetheless has a hard time believing there are actual angels and demons running around among us. That is of course until she spends about 10 minutes with Constantine and sees just how real they are. As far as the rest of the humans in the film Shia LaBeouf (Holes) does a nice comical turn as Constantine's sidekick and protégé while Djimon Hounsou (In America) works his voodoo mojo as a witch doctor who has a long-standing if strained relationship with Constantine. The not-so-human counterparts are equally intriguing. Peter Stormare (Fargo) delivers a somewhat over-the-top but devilishly eccentric performance as Satan. Tilda Swinton (The Deep End) dons the wings of the arch-angel Gabriel to whom Constantine is always asking for a reprieve but who has got her own agenda.
Based on the DC Comics/Vertigo comic-book Hellblazer Constantine is demonic eye candy. Obviously inspired by the many music videos he's helmed in the past director Francis Lawrence making his feature film debut paints a pretty dark and moody world with shadowy wet rat-infested (or cockroach-infested) corners that hide the horrific demon half-breeds as well as all other kinds of terrible baddies. Then when we get into Hades itself where the demons and seplavites--a sub-genre of the damned who are sightless mindless soul eaters--prowl it's an apocalyptic landscape. Lovely place. Unfortunately the script isn't nearly as stimulating. It must be an arduous task adapting a series of comic books so to his credit screenwriter Kevin Brodbin does do a nice job introducing us to Constantine and his world. But Brodbin seems to have incorporated too much. As the action escalates more and more plot points and characters are thrown in complicating matters. By the time the long-winded climax is over you're exhausted.
London bachelor John (Jack) Worthing who has a murky background and his roguish spendthrift friend Algernon (Algy) Moncrieff pursue romance but are each deceitful in their own ways. Jack who is guardian of his beloved niece Cecily Cardew at an estate outside London invents a brother named Ernest so he can escape to London whenever the whim hits and hook up with pal Algy. Both bachelors are suitors but their lies and the rampant snobbery of the day get in the way. Jack hopes to marry Gwendolen Fairfax but her rigidly elitist and dominating mother Lady Bracknell is put off by Jack's lowly origins. (Parents unknown he was found as a package at Victoria Station.) While Jack locks horns with Bracknell in London Algy journeys to Jack's country home to woo Cecily and gains entree by claiming to be Ernest Jack's invented brother. When Jack returns to the country to announce that the fictive Ernest is dead he must confront pal Algy who has successfully re-invented himself as Ernest and a host of deceits. But delicious revelations unleashed by the devoted nanny-turned-tutor Miss Prism save the day for both fib-prone suitors. Happily Cecily and Gwendolen share their suitors' romantic inclinations and tolerance for tall tales.
The burning question in many minds is no doubt whether Reese Witherspoon (Legally Blonde) the only American in this veddy Brit film can carry an English accent. The answer is a resounding "yes." Her success as privileged ingenue Cecily in both accent and overall performance is all the more commendable because she is surrounded by some of the brightest and best of Brit acting talent. Colin Firth as Jack and Rupert Everett as Algy are seductively charming and appealing as the spoiled but smitten bachelors. Frances O'Connor as Gwendolyn convinces as the very "upper " but rebellious daughter of the imperious Lady Bracknell. And Dame Judi Dench as the formidably snotty and harsh Bracknell is scary enough for a horror film. Tom Wilkinson recently nominated for his role in In the Bedroom is appropriately genteel as the clergyman with a soft spot for Miss Prism sweetly portrayed by vet English actress Anna Massey brother of Donald and daughter of Raymond both legendary thesps. Art house fans will most appreciate the fine cast that armed with Wilde's words and ideas valiantly battles the film's excesses in a mission to entertain. As a dream ensemble they help put across Wilde's amusing story of mistaken identity naughty habits and laughable upper-crust foibles.
Oliver Parker was obviously on a shorter leash when he earlier directed his more disciplined and faithful adaptation of another Oscar Wilde play An Ideal Husband. With Earnest Parker has gone auteur with a fury by crafting a bloated overproduced extravagantly opened-up version of the concise play that Wilde would hardly recognize. Here the lavish costumes sumptuous sets overbearing musical soundtrack and Parker-invented flights into fantasy (Cecily has recurrent daydreams of a white knight coming to the rescue) and flashback (Bracknell has a Parker-minted lowly-dance-hall chorine past) all but drown out Wilde's streamlined savage wit and whack at upper-class conceits. Still Parker allows his illustrious performers to shine through all the fluffery.