I remember dreading this movie when I first heard about it. The exorcist-mystery-action flick is based on the escapades of John Constantine, the protagonist of the acclaimed “Hellblazer” comics published by DC Comics/Vertigo. A wily working class wizard from England, Constantine’s adventures make the last half of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows” look like Harry’s high school prom. So I was naturally thrilled when I heard the comic was going to be turned into a movie . . . until I heard the British Constatine was going to be played Keanu Reeves, hot off his bland turn in the last “Matrix” movie. To make matters worst, Chaz, Constantine’s mid-30’s driver, was going to be played by Shia LeBeouf. Yeah, I could see how this was going to go. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised by the results. As adaptations go, “Constantine” can only be considered a “spiritual adaptation” at best – and there are plenty of spirits to go around.
Angela (Rachel Weisz) is an intrepid LAPD detective who has just lost her twin sister to suicide. A devout Catholic, Angela is desperate to find answers about her sister’s fate – so she turns to John Constantine, a chain-smoking freelance exorcist. Condemned himself to the wrong side of
the afterlife after a failed suicide attempt, Constantine vainly seeks to score brownie points with God by performing exorcisms. He soon introduces Angela to the seedy underbelly of spiritual warfare, with angels and demons locked in a proxy war for fate of mankind. As they investigate the
death of Angela’s sister, they cross paths with the half-demon Balthazar (Gavin Rossdale), the half-angel Gabrielle (Tilda Swinton) and the supposedly neutral witch doctor Papa Midnite (Djimon Honsou), with all locked in a bid to stop or start Hell on Earth.
For a character as charismatic and compelling as John Constantine, Keanu Reeves certainly is an odd choice. In spite of all this, Reeves successfully pulls off the burned-out, world-weary quality of the comic book character. All of the supporting cast is effective, with LeBeouf getting some of the best lines in the script. Swinton maintains the odd and unearthly presence she exudes in the “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” to the role of the none-too-benevolent angel Gabriel. And if that weren’t enough, Peter Stormare of “Armageddon” fame turns up playing the Devil himself. The real star of the movie is director Francis Lawrence, who pulls off his first feature debut by effectively rendering the streets of Heaven, Hell and Los Angeles with epic ease. Lawrence followed up this film with the Richard Matheson hit “I Am Legend” and is currently working yet another adaptation – “Water for Elephants.”
The mythology of the film is both its greatest asset and great weakness. A key premise lies in that angels and demons cannot directly appear on earth, and are left to indirectly influence humanity one way or the other. This is slickly illustrated scene after scene, but the rules are never quite fleshed out. How do these rules apply to the various “cross-breeds” Constantine encounters? What does it even mean to be a cross-breed? The rules are never explained – even when one character becomes one in a post-credit scene.
What “Constantine” lacks in the substance, it makes up for with a rare combo of originality and enjoyability. It’s one of those movies which ends up coming out so different than the source material that you wonder why at all they even bothered to adapt it in the first place. Still, “Constantine” certainly has the scope and attitude, and that counts for a lot in a movie where the devil really is in the details.
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