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"Constantine"

Directed by Francis Lawrence.
Written by Kevin Brodbin and Frank Cappello.  Based on the comic book "Hellblazer" by James Delano and Garth Ellis.
Starring Keanu Reaves, Rachel Weisz, Shia LeBeouf and Djimon Hounsou.
Release Year:  2005
Review Date:  2/19/05

Folks--

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.

Rating:  Matinee

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

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 "Office Space"). 

"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 half stars." 

"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 Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09