Naturally, when the time became right to Cast old Constantine in a movie about him, Hollywood chose Keanu Reeves, a black-haired, brown-eyed, Asian Canadian actor who made the blank stare and the exclamation of "WHOA!" famous. I happen to love old Keanu, but roles like Neo, whose blank disbelief fits Keanu perfectly, are much more credible for him than... well, this!
But then, when Hellblazer was created DC Comics had more freedom for play... they had Superman and (soon) Batman on the big screen, whereas Mighty Marvel was making minor splashes on TV. The roles are reversed now, and DC's latest Big Screen Foray... was Catwoman!
Yep, they need a sure thing, and in Director Francis Lawrence's filmic adaptation of Hellblazer, simply entitled Constantine, "Due Dilligence" is written all over the place. There are great (and even quite, quite obscure) nods to the comic book and the DC Mythos at large, and there are enough new inclusions and tried and true "Sure Things" to make sure that Constantine is a hit. Which makes one wonder why the whole thing feels as forced as Keanu's dialogue.
Is it "Bad"? No, in fact it's very cool, and worth seeing for a hell of a fun ride. But liking a movie doesn't necessarily mean said movie is the greatest thing since Internet Porn. As the next step in the ancient war (or is it a "Bet") between Good and Evil begins to take shaking and plodding form, John Constantine and his Smurf-Sized circle of friends are taking part in Exorcisms, hanging out in VooDoo Bars and doing battle with Demons made of insect swarms! This is all in a day's work until the Demonic Presences begin to outweigh the angelic influences on Earth, suggesting "The Balance" has been tainted, and Evil is going to Win!
Constantine is vigorously fighting off this incursion into the tangible partially because it's the right thing to do... but mostly because he's trying his damndest (no pun intended) to warrant a free retirement cruise to Heaven (now paramount due to the fact that his chain-smoking has given him the lungs of a coal miner). Reluctantly teaming up with Rachel Weisz' detective Angela Dodson, whose sister's death is integrally linked to "The Balance" between good and evil (or new lack thereof), Constantine uses all forms of unexplained ritual to cross back and forth through Hell and Los Angeles (in this film, two different places)! All the while more sub-plots than a re-drawn acre of land begin to unravel so slowly, you may or may not even notice.
However, this film is great fun, and can be both a joy to the comics fan (Midnite is included here as played by Djimon Hounsou) and a frustration (much of what made the comic great is sacrificed for Whoreywood fun). It's almost impossible not to root for Team Constantine as they stick pins in Evil's smelly ass armed with Special Effects not seen since... well, since The Matrix Revolutions. The comic-inspired moments, as well as the religious under- and over-tones are gratefully accepted thrown bones, and such unexpected appearances by notables like Gavin Rossdale (as Balthazar), Tilda Swinton (as Gabriel), Peter Stormare as the hilariously sleazed-out Satan and Francis Guinan (as Father Garret) help make a "cool" movie fun to watch.
But the screenplay by Kevin Brodbin and Frank A. Cappello seems like a calculated effort to appease the fans of Hellblazer while not alienating new viewers. Therefore the whole shebang feels like a montage of checklist items rather than a cohesive piece of art. And, it's true... Keanu Reeve's acting, no matter how likeable he is, is just not that good. No, he wasn't well cast for the part, and there are moments where he pulls his lines off like a stripper's top, but in general he still feels as wooden as his blandest speech in Speed, especially when the implied subtle humor falls flat due to delivery. The solution? Shia LaBeouf, the insult of whose inclusion is tantamount to casting Eddie Deezen and Didi Conn in The Phantom of the Opera! LaBeouf's annoyingly whiny taxi driver Chas Chandler serves exclusively to make Keanu Reeves look good by comparison... he's a worse actor than Keanu and he's much, much less likeable. Shia LaBeouf is terrible in this film, and as unnecessary as the re-setting of this story in Los Angeles (instead of England) but he does provide that "vital" role of "someone to explain shit to" when the producers could actually tell the audience wouldn't get this.
Still, you could do a lot worse, and if you're a fan of Catholic Mystical horror, Vertigo, special effects and action (not to mention the great Make-Up Effects of Stan Winston and his Studio) this might be a good fit for you... just pay no mind to continuity... or to believability. It's a special effects extravaganza, and a treat for the eyes... when they aren't rolling, that is. Three Stars out of Five for Constantine. There are a lot of good parts here, and some parts I even loved... but I don't even know where to begin telling you the flaws that have obscured that greatness. Well, fingers crossed for Batman Begins at any rate. And until someone films The Sandman with Vince D'Onofrio as Morpheus and Shia LaBeouf as Daniel, I'll mystically and mysteriously haunt you in the next reel!
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