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IN SHORT: Disappointing. [Rated R for Violence and Demonic Images. 121 minutes]
John Constantine was created by Alan Moore as a supporting character in the Swamp Thing comic, though the most famous solo stories, including at least one that plays a part in this film, were written by Warren Ellis or Garth Ennis in the DC/Vertigo comic book Hellblazer. Comic fanboys and certain fans of The Matrix will buy tix to see Keanu. Their other halves will want to see Keanu, too (so ex girlfriends have told me) so either way the film is a win win date situation. Except that Constantine the movie plods along, and is neither terrifying nor thrilling. It's the kind of dateflick that will give any couple reason to get out of the house for two hours. That's about it.
Long time readers know that Cranky collects comic books. Hellblazer isn't on our pull list. That's got nothing to do with our opinion. We don't compare to source material, though we note that fanboys have been screaming on the 'net for months about the film's reset of the title character as a Los Angeles based American (in four color he's a Brit). Then again, some in our audience were laughing at elements in the film that we didn't find particularly funny, so we'll chalk that up to the film makers paying attention to the fans and move on.
This Americanized Hellblazer begins in Mexico, with the discovery of the Spear of Destiny, used to poke a hole in Jesus during the crucifixion. "Lost" at the end of WWII, and found wrapped in a Nazi flag it will wreak havoc all by itself as it journeys up the West Coast. Meanwhile, somewhere in LA, a disturbed woman named Isabel Dodson (Rachel Weisz) takes a dive off the roof of a mental hospital. Over on the East Side, in the Hispanic community, John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) exorcizes a "soldier demon" from a young girl's body. Constantine is doing the dirty work at the behest of a Father Hennessy (Pruitt Taylor Vince), who is too fat and out of shape to endure the rigors of the work. Now that we've described enough opening settings, we warn those inclined to lay down the ten spot to absolutely NOT miss the first two minutes of the film. You'll know why we urge that once you peel yourself off the back of your seat. From there on in it's all, unfortunately, downhill.
Constantine, the character, is blessed and/or cursed with the ability to recognize demons in their human form. Earth is, you see, the playground of angels and demons – God and Satan (Peter Stormare) pretty much lay back and let their minion have their fun – with the angel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton) and Satan spawn Balthazar (Gavin Rossdale) messing with our main characters from time to time. Constantine crosses paths with LAPD detective Angela Dodson (also Weisz), the twin sister of the deceased, who doesn't much believe in Constantine's abilities but is willing to let him go trolling through Hell, looking for her sister. Most of the characters are Catholic, so we really should thank the Church for giving us centuries of symbolism and myth for the film makers draw upon. First time film director Francis Lawrence's representation of Hell is particularly delicious, especially to New Yorkers like Cranky <vbg>, but his construction of the overall story isn't particularly interesting.
Constantine is pressured by the demands of detective Dodson, to find out whether her sister is indeed relegated to Hell, and the unfortunate fact that a pack and a half a day of cigarettes has given him terminal lung cancer. The man's clock is ticking and his final destination is a long determined piece of knowledge – we won't spill that tidbit. We will say that why this demon slayer has chosen his line of work has much to do with it, and is explained in dialog exposition offered up long after we had lost interest in the film. Mixed in among everything else is a neutral zone of a bar, run by Djimon Hounsou, where earth bound angels and demons mingle and an underdeveloped substory involving Constantine's apprentice, Chaz Kramer (Shia LaBeouf).
In battles between Heaven and Hell, assuming that a viewer's religious training will fill in the holes, is not a wise thing to do. Constantine is, dare we say it?, an intellectually heavy scareflick. That is its problem. There are demons and angels and satisfactory special effects that are just, well, satisfactory. The overall film is just not interesting enough to hold attention. By the time the various subplots we've described have run their course and the movie gets to its big surprise -- there's always a big surprise -- it is far too late into the Third Act. Waiting that long to get to the point, and we don't give the endings away, is the film equivalent of shooting oneself in the foot. We will say that, if certain background characters had been given more importance early on in the screenplay than they actually were, that extra foreshadowing might have made the film work.
There were appreciative laughs at points from the men in our screening audience and a lesser amount of derisive laughter from some of the women. Constantine is, on the whole, the kind of waste two hours dateflick that is good for, uh, wasting two hours. It unfortunately resembles other badly adapted comic book films, in which a lot of stories or story ideas are lifted and slammed together into one piece.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Constantine, he would have paid . . .
We forgot to mention Beeman (Simon Wells), who builds Constantine's weapons, like a crucifix shaped machine gun. Now we have. Now we're done.
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