Constantine

I had a feeling Evo going to see this film to review stood a snowball's chance in Hell, but I was willing to face Dante's Inferno and see Constantine, a dark, gothic comic book graphic novel of the battle between Heaven, Hell, and the guy caught in the crossfire. I will say Keanu did make up for his debacles we know as Matrix: Reloaded and Matrix: Revolutions; but much like its hero, Constantine is a bit rough around the edges.

Rating: 3 out of 5

I was looking over my last ?comic book inspired? movie review, Elektra, and I was kind of surprised I'm giving Constantine the same score because I liked Keanu Reeves' tormented hero a bit more than Jennifer Garner's kick-butt assassin. Still, would I sell my soul to see this movie on the big screen again? God, no.

John Constantine is not your likely hero. For one thing, he is single-handedly keeping Phillip Morris (and his lungs) in the black with chain-smoking faster than you can say ?You've come a long way, baby.? To tell the truth, John has. You see, John?when he was a kid?had it a lot worse than Haley Joel Osmet. John was seeing angels and demons. Instead of writing a best-selling thriller under the same title, he tired to off himself. His two minutes of death was spent in Hell, and that was enough to condemn his soul, make the Devil want him all the more, and get John into the exorcism business.

Two particularly nasty brushes with demons raise questions that John needs answers to, and quickly. Otherwise, all Hell is going to break loose?here on Earth. As he's trying to figure out what is going on between planes, LA Homicide detective Angela Dodson is trying to figure out what killed her twin sister. All the evidence points to suicide, but a supernatural utterance of the name ?Constantine? leads her to this enigmatic, brooding, and nicotine-craving exorcist.

Together, the two of them face ?Big Lou? and his minions, as well as their own personal demons, in a battle royale for all of Earth.

Sound promising? Well, I will say that out of all the films I've seen that have depicted Hell on the big screen, Constantine provides the most terrifying interpretation of what it would be. (Yeah, I was so convinced, I wouldn't say ?could be.? This is imagery horrifying enough to convert even the strongest atheist!) We go to Hell several times in the picture, and its visuals are just as powerful, intense, and hauntingly beautiful as the rest of the film. Constantine cannot be knocked for its visuals because they all work. You may see moments that are somewhat Matrix-like, but I think that is just the Keanu-factor working into this mix. If you are a fan of the Hellblazer series, then you would agree that the director and his crew captured the look and feel for this world. Nicely done.

Acting wise, Keanu has a lot of strong support from his fellow players. Rachel Weisz (who has seen her fill of action alongside Brendan Fraiser in The Mummy films) provides a nice counter in the same vein that Carrie-Anne Moss did in The Matrix. Djimon Hounsou (that softened up Russell Crowe a bit in Gladiator) also makes an impression with Midnite, a gifted witch doctor who is trying desperately to play both sides of the fence. Constantine is nearly stolen by the performances turned in by Tilda Swinton as Archangel Gabriel (who just gives you the creeps from Frame One) and Peter Stormare as the Prince of Darkness himself, or as Constantine calls him?Lou. Stormare's Satan is so edgy and so nasty, he becomes a contender for ?Best Beelzebub? against John Glover's Devil seen in the short-lived TV show, Brimstone.

Beautiful imagery. Solid characters. And here's where Constantine takes a wrong turn?

The imagery in Constantine is nothing short of impressive. The transitions into Hell. The harbinger of the Apocalypse. The angels and demons among us. It's all very powerful. Too much imagery, however, can make one numb; and that is exactly what happens with first-time director Francis Lawrence at the helm. He goes out of his way to make this film look like the DC graphic novel, and had he stopped there I think Constantine would have been a better film. Unfortunately, he started going into stylized camera angles, intricate scene and set composition, and all these other wacky touches that was supposed to make Constantine stand out (I guess).

To quote the late Warren Oats in the film Stripes: ?Lighten up, Francis.?

By the end, if I had been bombarded by another angelic or demonic image, I think I would have converted to Buddahism in the theatre lobby. ?Less is more? as they say, but not in the case of Constantine.

Now as far as scripts go, we've got Jamie Delano & Garth Ennis who were writing for the comic book Hellblazer (Hey, IMDB called it a ?comic book? this time?don't give me that hoity-toity look?). Then we've got Kevin Brodbin coming up with the story, Kevin Brodbin and Frank A. Cappello turning it into a screenplay. Too many cooks, you think? Well, in some places, yeah?but I could still follow what was going on. However, I am not a fan of intricate character building, only to have said characters systematically bumped off before the ending credits roll. I'm not going to spoil things here for those of you who are waiting to hear more buzz about Keanu, his Heavenly hosts, and his friends from Hell; but why put me through some terrific scenes and intriguing character development only to erase said characters from the mix? When one major player takes a fall, I think that's a sting. When it's two, the sting becomes more of a shove. But when supporting players are fish in a barrel, what's the point? So while the story for Constantine works on a whole, it is quite hollow from a chartacter's point of view.

I now reach the point of my review that I call ?Evo's Circle of Hell? as I tackle the big question: How was Keanu?

Well ? okay ? let's ? talk ? about ? Keanu. ? I ? found ? his ? performance ? a ?step ? up ? from ? the ? last ? two ? Matrix ? films?

?but?

For ? some ? weird ? reason ? Keanu ? would ? take ? a ? simple ? sentence ? and ? make ? it ? last ? as ? long ? as ? a ? two ? page ? Shakespearean ? soliloquy.

No kidding. While Evo would argue ?That's Keanu?? I would defend the big lug because he was never this bad in past films like the original Matrix, Dangerous Liaisons, Much Ado About Nothing, or even those goofy Bill & Ted movies. Keanu, I believe, was under the thumb of Director Francis Lawrence who had Constantine brood a lot, tug his coat a lot, and speak slowly a lot. There were some highly needed moments of levity that Keanu pulled off like a pro (especially a joke at the end of the film?very nice touch!), and I really believe that was the real Keanu sneaking out to play. Sadly, this is all lost as the director was trying way too hard (again) to create the brooding hero, but instead makes Constantine look like a drop out from the William Shatner School of Acting.

Constantine was not a complete waste-of-time, but my frustrations come from how good this film could have been had the director loosened up a bit, Keanu picked up the pace in his dialogue, and the screenwriters hadn't felt the need for collateral damage. I would say the film is a good rental or a fine matinee, but that's if you've got nothing better to see or nothing else to do.

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