My friend Ross and I were leaving the
theater on Friday following a late matinee of "Constantine", and we
were talking about why actors sign on to projects like this, the hot
button these days being comic book adaptations.
And, on paper, "Constantine"--based on the "Hellblazer"
comic series--is a cool idea. You get a sorcerer named John
Constantine (played here by Keanu Reeves) who walks the earth
banishing "half-breeds"--some kind of demons, but now I'm forgetting
exactly what kind--back to Hell. He does this with the help of
all kinds of cool gadgets and spells and potions and...demonic
shotguns. With Los Angeles as his stomping ground, Constantine
is trying to bust enough of these demons to earn his way into
Heaven; see, he's got a lot of baggage, plus lung cancer, and so he
needs every edge he can in order to earn entry into higher ground
once he eventually bites it.
There's other stuff going on in the film,
but as I sat through it (it feels even longer than its 120 minutes),
I wondered when I would start to care. As a character that
creates no real empathy for his situation, Constantine is hard to
get behind even though he looks reasonably cool smoking cigarettes
and boozing while trying to figure out the film's main plot.
That plot has something to do with twin sisters (played by Rachel
Weisz) that can see these demons walking around and how Lucifer
wants one of the sisters and something about a dagger that some
Mexican guy picks up that has the power of the Devil.
But it's all so damned cool-looking, from
the visions of Hell to Constantine's former partner-in-demon-busting
Papa Midnite (Djimon Hounsou) to the special effects to the
atmosphere created by rookie director Francis Lawrence.
"Constantine" really is like the hot girl in your history class that
you meet and realize she has nothing interesting to say; it's such a
slick production and so watchable that you almost don't realize it's
not that great until it's over. It's the kind of movie that
shouldn't have been handed to a rookie like Lawrence; in the hands
of a Tim Burton, or a Michael Bay, or a John McTiernan (on
McTiernan's good gigs, like "Die Hard" or "The Thomas Crown
Affair"), "Constantine" would have been gold. Not
surprisingly, Lawrence is a music video director that got this
gig...so the sizzle is there, but not too much substance.
Reeves does work here that is not far
removed from his work in "Johnny Mnemonic" or other works that have
him playing the silent type, so in this respect he is well cast.
After reading the "Hellblazer" comic last week before seeing this
film, I was a bit surprised that the Constantine of the comics is
British, blond and fairly chatty, or the rough opposite of the movie
character. Were there no Brits available? Shia LeBeouf
does passable work as Constantine's sidekick/driver Chas; Hounsou
does the most he can with Midnite's three or four scenes, but it's
solid work to be sure. Really, the performances of almost
everyone in "Constantine" were just fine...but with so many
characters, so many angles are left untouched that only the comic's
fans will be happy, I think. I mean, I knew a little more
about Midnite's past because of reading a graphic novel about the
comics...but here, his relationship with Constantine is almost
completely left out. Apparently, Satan and Constantine have
had a couple of run-ins...so their confrontation is not as
interesting as it could have been. Things like this
immediately make "Constantine" just normal, just average; if you are
not going to give us a prologue on what each character's place is,
then just leave that character out of the movie!
I'm happy that I saw "Constantine" in a
theater; there's cool stuff to see while plopped in front of a big
screen. But I feel like I just had Chinese for lunch, and I
wish I had something a little more lasting for my palette.
Comments? Drop me a line at
Bellview Rating System:
"Opening Weekend": This is
the highest rating a movie can receive. Reserved for movies that
exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development,
setting...or Salma Hayek. Not necessarily in that order.
"$X.XX Show": This price
changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently,
it is the $9.50 Show. While not technically perfect, this is a
movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.
"Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca",
but you'll have a great time watching. The $9.50 Show won't win any
Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see
"Matinee": An average movie
that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.
Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about
yourself. A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave
the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that
Lakers game last night?"
"Rental": This rating
indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your
friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one." Mostly forgettable, you
couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to
watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the
video store was out of copies of "Ronin." If you can, see this
movie for free. This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a
"Hard Vice": This rating is
the bottom of the barrel. A movie that only six other human beings
have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen. A Shannon
Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every
one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a
movie. Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or
"Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this
movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!
(Warning: strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard