Constantine a qualified success
Rob Levy
2/21/2005 11:44:22 AM

Directed by Francis Lawrence
(Warner Bros.)

Anytime a popular, book, play, TV show or comic book is adapted for the big screen by those know-it-all Hollywood types, there is bound to be dissent and anger amongst those who care deeply for the subject matter. In the case of Constantine, the film adaptation of DC/Vertigo comicís longest running title, Hellblazer, there are plenty of naysayers in queue waiting to pummel, pounce and puree Hollywoodís version of their beloved comic.

Having said that it is best to make a distinction between the two. The comic is set in England and features a blonde and haggard John Constantine as an unscrupulous, chain- smoking magician about town who fights evil on his own terms with complete disregard for the lives he destroys in the process. The film follows along those lines except itís set in Los Angeles and features the not so run down Keanu Reeves.

The folks at Warner Brothers and DC Comics have a lot riding on this film. Itís their first foray into comic books films for quite some time and they want it to work. Plus, having Constantine do well at the box office sets up the big Batman re-launch this summer. In addition to that, Keanu Reeves needs to build off his success in the Matrix films with another successful franchise.

The plot is tenuous and confusing. John Constantine (Reeves) is a man with no real place in the world of the living or the dead. Constantine was born with a special gift that allows him to see the demons, angels and half-breeds that walk amongst our waking world. Overwrought by the responsibility of this gift, a young Constantine unsuccessfully attempts suicide, marking him for Hell when his time on Earth ends. As a result, John has walked the Earth with a chip on his shoulder repeatedly trying to redeem himself and ensure his entry into Heaven.

As the film opens, a disillusioned and bitter Constantineís hopes for a reprieve head south after he is diagnosed with incurable lung cancer. As if that wasnít enough Constantine becomes concerned about increased demonic activity on our Ďneutralí plane (our world is supposed to be neutral from interference from either Ďsideí). His concerns come to fruition when he is attacked by a demon.

His luck changes, however when he meets Detective Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz) who reluctantly enlists his help to save the soul of her twin sister, Isabel who has died of an apparent suicide. Angela believes her sisterís death was no accident and appeals to Constantine to help her discover the truth.

This is no easy task because battle lines are clearly being drawn and war is on the horizon. Constantineís pushing, poking and prodding causes a stir in the Underworld causing all Hell to break loose. Before itís all over, Constantine confronts his personal demons as he literally battles both the Angel Gabriel and the Devil himself to save Isabel and redeem his soul.

Constantine isnít a film for everyone. If you love the comic book, then odds are you wonít love the movie. However if you love a good supernatural thriller then this may be right up your alley. It has all the elements of a good scare flick: horror, religious iconography, dark humor and of course, lost souls needing redemption.

Although Constantine is short on action, it is long on effects and mood. The filmís somber tone perfectly sets up the scarier moments. Most of the story happens at night, indoors or amidst drab, dark surroundings.

Acting-wise thereís not a whole lot to jump up and down about. Keanu Reeves isnít terrible, but heís not as convincing as he could be. On the other hand Tilda Swinton, Djimon Hounsou and Pruitt Taylor Vance are terrific.


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