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CONSTANTINE

2005, dir. Francis Lawrence
121 min., Rated R.
Starring: Ted "Theodore" Logan, Rachel Weisz, Shia LeBeouf, Djimon Honsou, Peter "Pancakes House" Stormare

Review by Justin Patterson

"I didn't think you'd make the same mistake twice, but you did. Didn't you?" -Satan

Friday night was date night, and Stace and I went out to see Constantine. I'd read the comic book Hellblazer for several years and really like the whole bit: the characters, the setting, the art and the attitude. When I heard some time back that "they" were thinking of making a film version of Hellblazer, I thought to myself, "Cool." I then thought to myself, "Whom should 'they' cast as John? Hmmmm, Paul Bettany, maybe?" Y'see, John Constantine is a rather interesting fellow with rather interesting co-workers and generally doesn't give a rat's ass about anyone else. He's a dirty, tired, chain-smoking, irreverent bloke from Liverpool who plays with demons and angels and all variations in between.

THEN the word came down. 'They' had done the worst possible thing that 'they' could have done. That is to say, 'they' did what 'they' always do when 'they' have an idea for a motion picture that is not mainstream: cast someone big who really doesn't fit the role. "It's a role designed for Sting," they say, "so let's make it. . .hmmm, Keanu? Is Keanu good for everyone?" We do benefit from one small blessing, which is that it was decided early on not to make Constantine from England, as Keanu can't do accents for shit. It's a scientifically proven fact.

Before we get too deep into the film, though, we have PREVIEWS!

First off, there was a commercial. Normally that ticks me off, unless it's "Into the Great Wide Open" by Tom Petty, or something like that. This was a commercial for Coke and Interstate Batteries that looked like an anime cross between Speed Racer, NASCAR and Top Gun. I didn't mind it so much.

There's a new version of House of Wax that's coming soon to a theater near you. It has Elisha Cuthbert and Paris Hilton. Chris and I will tackle that in some future drunken movie-fest kind of thing, but as a rental only. A new trailer came out for Batman Begins, and I'm starting to get a little psyched about this one. Yeah, I'm a comic geek and this is a comic-based movie, but this looks to be a (blessedly) complete departure from the presence of Joel "nipples on the Bat-suit" Schumacher. Christian Bale will do a good job, I think, and it just looks like a kickass setup. Getting to see the training and the development of the Caped Crusader will be nice. Jamie Foxx and Jessica Biel have a new flick coming called Stealth, and this looks like a summer blockbuster (popcorn) in the making. Slightly in the future, badass fighter jocks are forced to welcome un-manned fighters into their midst, only to have to turn around and destroy said un-manned fighters when they turn bad. It looks pretty sweet. Call it ID4, or whatever. Pissing off Muslims everywhere, Liam Neeson and Orlando Bloom have a new flick about the Crusades, called Kingdom of Heaven. It looks okay. If it's on par with Troy, I'll probably check it out. Plus, for once, the trailer doesn't make Orlando look like a little girly-man. Sin City is going to rock. Bet on it. Just look up the cast, for crying out loud. Lastly, Sean "Maj. Asshole, Sir!" Penn and Nicole Kidman have one coming out called The Interpreter. It looks good. Then again, The Peacemaker looked good until I got to see it. I'll reserve judgement on this one.

The opening credits set the tone for the film, as the production company's logo quickly begins to smolder. A man in Mexico digs beneath the floorboards of a wreched church and comes up with the head of a spear. This unassuming man runs away from the dump, clutching the spear. He is then hit by a car moving at around seventy miles per hour. The crash is sudden, unsuspected, violent and GREAT. The slightly confused Mexican man is holding onto the spear that pierced the side of Jesus. He now feels some kind of drive to make him run to Los Angeles.

In Los Angeles (to which a road sign refers as Lost Angels), John Constantine has been called to perform an exorcism. A little girl was caught crawling around on the ceiling. To comic fans, this first shot serves as a kind of reassurance. The first thing that we see of John is his hand, dropping a cigarette butt out of the window of a taxi. Chaz, his driver, is also his apprentice (and looks about as inept as Ned Beatty in the Superman flicks). John coaxes a full-fledged fighting demon out of the little girl and banishes it into a mirror, which is then dsestroyed (again with the Superman motif). The problem is that demons are allowed to possess, but aren't supposed to be able to fully come through to this plane.

Angela is a cop with the LAPD, and she has a rather unnerving habit of shooting bad people. She doesn't even really mean to, but she just knows who the bad guys are. She's upset because her twin sister, Isabel, has apparently committed suicide by jumping from the roof of her mental hospital. Angela knows that this can't possibly be the case, since her sister is a devout Catholic and suicide is a mortal sin. Upon reviewing security video of her sister's Louganis, Angela hears her sister say one word to her: "Constantine."

And so, our characters are thrown together in a diabolical plot to bring about the coming of Mammon, the son of Lucifer.

I had dared to raise my hopes a wee bit (on the scope of wee, not-so-wee and freakin' HUGE) after seeing the trailer for this flick, and I'm genuinely surprised to say that I'm not disappointed. The people who put this film together did a pretty good job. It's not a masterpiece, but it's far-and-away better than, say, Howard the Duck.

Keanu. Let's talk about Keanu. The guy did okay. Maybe that's because Constantine doesn't tend to ramble on, or because his didn't-see-it-don't-care-fuck-off attitude suits Keanu so well. From the first exorcism scene, it looks like Keanu has the crucial Constantine attitude down. He has the right amount of ego for the part, and does a good job of convincing us that he's just doing a job and would rather be at home asleep. His aptitude for the attitude comes and goes, but he generally makes a decent go of it.

Shia LeBeouf (or however you spell it) is almost completely forgettable as Chaz. Sure, they try to prop him up later in the movie, but he's interchangeable. Even Constantine compares him to Tonto, Robin the Boy Wonder and Jay (of Silent Bob fame). I will give Shia props for one thing: he had so little to work with, but he worked that to a T. He had to be an annoying sidekick, so he annoyed the hell out of me. He even made me chuckle a few times.

Tilda Swinton as the angel Gabriel was as near-perfect a casting decision as I've seen. Sure, Gabe wasn't as androgynous as he/she could have been, but Ms. Swinton definitely makes a good impression with this role. Her rather antagonistic relationship with John is established right off the bat. By the point that Gabriel is introduced, we're beginning to really feel for John Constantine. He can't have really been all THAT bad, can he? There's still a chance for him to get into Heaven, right? Tilda / Gabriel sets us straight as she kneels and speaks directly into John's face:

"You're going to die young because you've smoked 30 cigarettes a day since you were 15. You're going to Hell because of the life you took. You're fucked."

The character of Angela Dodson is okay. It's not particularly dynamic or filled-to-the-brim with anything, really. We get close to seeing her really town up over the loss of her sister, once the Church declares that she cannot be buried on consecrated ground, but that's about the most that we're able to coax out of Rachel Weisz. She looks pretty good, fairly healthy. No obvious cavities, to speak of.

Gavin Rossdale of Bush is an inspired choice as the demon Balthazar. He's charming, well-dressed, and freaking twisted. I think we'll see more of this guy on the big screen, if this performance doesn't turn out to be a fluke. He never comes out and tells Constantine that he put the lung cancer in him, but you can see that he's thinking about it.

Peter Stormare as Satan. I thought he was going to come out with his Russian accent again, but no. Instead, Satan sounds like a trailer-trash Alabama asshole who won the lottery and now likes messing in people's lives. His portrayal leads me to suspect that he has read Piers Anthony's For Love of Evil, but who knows? Satan whistles while he works, which makes him just a little scarier.

John: "Do you mind?" asking Satan if he can smoke.
Satan: "Go right ahead. I've got stock."

Djimon Honsou plays Midnite, a voodoo houngan who runs a bar where Good and Evil party. It's neutral, like Rick's place but without the Nazis. It has a very exclusive clientele. Midnite desperately wants to remain neutral in the coming fight, but winds up picking sides. Honsou did a pretty good job with this, though I suspect that there's a lot more footage of him on the cutting room floor, somewhere. I just got the feeling that he did a lot more than what shows up in the film.

For the kind of movie that this is, I figure I'll give it four out of five thumbs up. Really, it wasn't bad at all. Stace even liked it, which says something. They somehow made the actors fit the roles, which was a substantial obstacle. The special effects, though they will probably be a main draw for the film, did a good job of blending in with the rest of the film. It's not a piece of dreck like Spawn that relies on it. The performances were good. The direction was well-done, and that brings us to the most important thing I have to say about this movie: Unlike pieces of crap like Daredevil, it's obvious from watching this that someone on the production staff actually read the comic books. Yeah, the heavy hand of Hollywood is ever present, but the despair and wit and irreverence of the comic is present in the movie.

As the last thing, there is one moment in this film to which the comics fans can eagerly look forward. There is just one shot, one perfect shot. John is moving away from Satan, grinning slightly and shooting him the finger. In that exact moment, the lighting and the smile and the bird and the grin, it looks like it was lifted directly off of the pages of the comic. I shit you not, it was perfect. The rest of the movie gets close, but in that one moment they nail it right on the head. For that, I've got to applaud them.

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