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CONSTANTINE (R) (2005)

Warner Brothers

Official Site

Director: Francis Lawrence

Producers: Lauren Schuler Donner, Michael Uslan, Lorenzo DiBonaventura, Akiva Goldsman, Erwin Stoff, Benjamin Melniker

Written by: Kevin Brodbin and Frank A. Capello; based on the DC Vertigo comics character created by Alan Moore; from the story, “Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits” written by Garth Ennis

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Shia LeBeouf, Djimon Hounsou, Tilda Swinton, Peter Stormare, Gavin McGregor Rossdale, Max Baker, Pruitt Taylor Vince

Rating:


Based on some of the hype and positive buzz this movie has received, it appears that people have forgotten which studio claims responsibility for this picture. The same studio responsible for the last two Batman movies, Superman III and IV, and most recently, CINO (Catwoman In Name Only). So there’s no chance that this hybrid of End Of Days and The Matrix will fail as well? With actor Keanu Reeves playing a character created by Alan Moore in the pages of the “Swamp Thing” comics, way out of his league and beyond his ability? Nah.

Sadly no, Warner Brothers’ and DC Vertigo’s Constantine is not the comic book movie that sets the stage for comic book movies of the year or for the future. I clearly remember when asked about the extreme changes to the character, director Francis Lawrence stated, “We are trying to stay true to the essence and spirit of the character.” That’s not very convincing, especially when Catwoman producer Denise Di Novi and director Pitof said word for word, the exact same thing.

The film is a derivative and poorly told story about a nu-Constantine who is now American, lives in LA, and was born with the power to… see dead people (can’t fault Hollywood for lack of originality). Along with his trusty cab driver Chaz Kramer (LeBeouf, playing the same annoying teen sidekick he was in I, Robot) performs exorcisms and smokes his lungs away. Taken directly from the Garth Ennis story, the vices of Constantine’s life have finally caught up with him. He’s been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and due to a rather un-virtuous life he’s got nothing but an eternity of the hot place and torture awaiting him.

According to the movie, a balance exists between Heaven and Hell. Demons stay in Hell and angels in Heaven, but hybrids, for whatever reason, are allowed to linger on Earth and can manipulate and inspire. One such manipulation concerns Isabel Dodson, the twin sister of a detective named Angela (Weisz). Seeking Constantine for answers, they find a conspiracy involving the Spear of Destiny that will eventually bring about the birth of Satan’s son on Earth and make Earth not as cool a place to live (though I guess for Constantine creator, Alan Moore, a more interesting place maybe).

The movie was not all terrible. The direction by Francis Lawrence (coming from a background of directing music videos with his debut feature) is strong, and Lawrence creates a visceral, moody, and dark world for the setting. This movie is heavy on atmosphere that, despite being overdone in certain parts, it is distinct and remains the movie’s strongest aspect, along with the cinematography by Philippe Rousselot. The film also contains some great music by my second true musical love, Brian Tyler (composer of Six String Samurai and Bubba Ho-Tep). The problem is that the effort and strong film noir setting is wasted on a lame and disappointing story—a complete betrayal of the character of Constantine and the Hellblazer comics. In addition, the final act in the film contains a ridiculous cinematic plot-twist along with a rather muddled, poorly done conspiracy.

Keanu Reeves is his usual subdued, somewhat cocky self, but also appears stiff and totally out of place for the character. He is a bit of a bastard and a rude jerk, which Constantine is also… but he just is NOT John Constantine. Without giving too much away, if you know anything at all about the character you will understand in the final act of the movie. Weisz is decent here, and unfortunately plays the obligatory character who needs everything explained to her. At certain points her character seems contradictory. She seems to know things and is a devout Catholic, yet she goes to Constantine for answers. When Constantine answers she goes into denial and says, “I don’t believe in the devil,” to which Keanu so cringe-worthily replies, “Well you should, he believes in you.” Okay now, I know I don’t believe in Hell and the devil, but aren’t devout Catholics supposed to?

The movie does have interesting supporting characters such as Papa Midnite (Hounsou) and Beeman (Baker) along with some not so interesting ones, such as the half-angel Gabriel (Swinton) and the hanyou Balthazar (Rossdale). Beeman and Midnite, Constantine’s more interesting acquaintances, are cool characters whom I would have liked to see fleshed out a bit more. Balthazar, the boring two-dimensional antagonist, merely serves as a physical presence to the evil that is brewing, and would have been better left unseen.

There are token action sequences in this movie that are ridiculously out of place from the rest of the narrative and seem to be incorporated just to appease Warner Brothers’ executives and possibly fans of The Matrix who enjoyed the disappointing sequels. The movie could have tried to take the high road by not including any stupid, nearly pornographic (still not XXX porn guys) action scenes that really don’t need to be there.

So at the end of the day, does Constantine suck? No, it doesn’t suck, but it’s just another mediocre and disappointing comic book-based feature that doesn’t do justice to a fraction of the material from which it is derived. Maybe if Warner Brothers’ hadn’t been such Nazis about cell-phones at the screening, I wouldn’t have been quite as annoyed. But considering their track record and history, the result of Constantine was somewhat expected.

—Jeffrey “The Vile One” Harris

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


Mike Doughty



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