February 21, 2005


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Some comic aficionados are ecstatic, the rest are pissed, while the movie snobs stick up their noses. All the while, the uninitiated are left in a purgatory over Constantine, the latest comic book adapted movie.

Oops, I meant “graphic novel” for you diehard fans out there. Based on the series of Hellblazer graphic novels by DC Comics/Vertigo, the originally blond and British John Constantine is now played by copper-topped Keanu Reeves, who once again reprises his role of an introverted, troubled, and stylishly black-clad hero. Constantine, as his demon buddies like to call him, is a chain-smoking LA exorcist/PI/malcontent with — contrary to cinema standards — lung cancer. (I guess this movie won’t be winning anything at the Philip Morris movie awards.)

Why is he so irate? You’d be too if your ass was marked for Hell after attempting to commit suicide as a teen. See, in Catholic dogma — the religion of choice for 4 out 5 apocalyptic demon movies — even if you died for two minutes that’s still a big no-no. As the angel Gabriel so eloquently put it, “You’re fucked.” Now he tries to get back into you-know-who’s good graces by playing referee between God and Satan.

Confusing? Yes, and that’s just the back-story. In walks Rachel Weisz who plays Angela Dodson, a cop investigating her twin sister’s supposed suicide. Along with various troubling signs of demonic activity, Constantine and Angela must, blah blah blah …

If you can get past the erratic pacing of the movie, a miss-mash of dull didactic explanations and chaotic, yet compelling, CGI visualizations of hell — think an apocalyptic version of L.A. without the traffic — then you might be able to enjoy Constantine’s gothic and dark story of a man’s redemption. The movie’s storyline develops like an issue of the comic book — damn, I mean “graphic novel” — with a beginning and ending too episodic for a feature length film. Personally, I would have shortened the movie by 60 minutes and turned it into a television series, a much better fit for Constantine’s complicated history, which eeks out only in preparation for the movie’s franchising.

His first feature-length project, Constantine is headed by music-video director Francis Lawrence, whose work is most notably seen in “Cry Me a River” (Justin Timberlake) and “Sk8er Boi” (Avril Lavigne) — apparently he’s not foreign to the idea of hell-on-earth. Stylistically, Lawrence attempts and fails to copy the Wachowski brothers’ depiction of the hidden underground society of the occult, perfectly done in The Matrix. He even tries to simulate The Matrix’s memorable soundtrack of electronica and industrial music, but falls well short. To Lawrence’s credit, however, he seems to stay faithful to the comic book’s — yes dweebs, I’m calling them ‘comic books’ — artistry using a wide range of shots commonly seen within the panes of a comic.

Every now and then we are offered a taste of Constantine’s biting view of the world. In a humorous scene, Constantine traps a spider while blowing smoke under a glass, mockingly saying, “Welcome to my world.” Unfortunately that’s the extent of the dialogue and acting. In substitute of words, Reeves flashes the middle finger several times throughout the film, apparently the demons are well versed in American sign language as well. Acting wise, Reeves and Weisz try to establish a sexual tension — think Mulder and Scully of the X-Files — but alas, I felt more from my bean burrito than from those two on screen.

Promising at first, Constantine should be seen as a interesting look, but misstep in the superior graphic novel — ok, I caved, the nerds win — epic of John Constantine. At best, Constantine is worth a matinee showing, or if you can wait, a DVD rental to watch if you’re bored during Sunday mass. But if you must watch it in the theaters, make sure to stay to the end of the credits for a bonus.

Archived article by Ed Kim
Red Leter DAZE Staff Writer