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Constantine
Reviewed by Joe Crowe, © 2005

Format: Movie
By:   Francis Lawrence (director)
Genre:   Horror
Review Date:   March 22, 2005
Audience Rating:   PG-13
RevSF Rating:   7/10 (What Is This?)

I expected a total, brain-rattling train wreck of a movie from Constantine, and it was better than that. Who knew?

None of us here did. Witness our comments in a movie preview feature we did last year:

Books editor Peggy Hailey: "You know, if I were looking for someone to play a smart shady Brit magician, Keanu would be my first choice, too. Now that Schwarzenegger's given up the business."

Fiction editor Jayme Blaschke: "Keanu gives me a rash. No, really. I have a prescription and everything."

There is no reason that this movie should have been watchable. Multiple release delays and changes in directors and actors usually bode ill. This movie has been in the works for years. The fact of its release is surprising enough. It was on the same level as Alien vs. Predator, but not near the sheer impossibility of Watchmen. (For the record, at this writing, Watchmen still isn't finished, but Miss Congeniality 2 is. But that's not important now.)

Hellblazer is a long-running comic from DC Comics' edgy-mature imprint, Vertigo. The movie comes with a pre-movie credit frame with a "Vertigo" logo that looks similar to Marvel's.

But this is the only time they get to use it, unless they re-release Swamp Thing on DVD. They could do a movie about Books of Magic. It's about a teenage boy who learns about the ways of wizardry. Never mind; nobody'd go see that.

At first, Nicolas "You Got A Panty On Your Head" Cage was the blond, British magician. I'd rather see a blond British guy play the John Constantine part like the comics, but given the alternative of Keanu Reeves dying his hair and doing the accent he did in "Much Ado About Nothing," I'll take his performance here, thank you very much. Besides, to paraphrase Keanu himself in Parenthood: "You need a license to catch a fish, but any butt-reaming asshole can play Constantine."

At no time does Keanu issue his trademark "Whoa." That's worth two rating points right there.

I mainly remember Constantine from Alan Moore's Swamp Thing run as the human guy who Swampy "possessed" so he could give the ol' "Anatomy Lesson" to Abby Arcane. Thanks to the magic of comic book movies, I present to you now this mental image: Swamp Thing possessing Keanu Reeves so he can get it on with Heather Locklear.

For the first 45 minutes of the movie, Keanu Reeves looks like he's reading a cue card. But after that, he perks up.

Shia LeBouef plays a teenage apprentice to Constantine, who was there to be the viewpoint of the audience. But then he disappears halfway in. He comes back, but all this is fine, because I thought the movie was going to be about him. And that he would have a magic bracelet. Wait -- that was Elektra.

There are British actors here, or at least, non-American ones. But they're only supernatural beings. Which implies something really good about the British, or really bad about supernatural beings. Notable among them is Gavin Rossdale, who is the lead singer of Bush, whose album I bought. It was the mid-1990s, back when I had money. His appearance leads to the funnest part of the movie: Constantine's holy brass knuckles! (Why do I want to say "Batman" at the end of that sentence?)

But as Keanu himself reported in Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, "every rose has its thorn." Like in Constantine's first plot-exposition sequence, when he explains how the movie's world works. He says, "Heaven and hell are right here, behind every wall, every window, the world behind the world."

And I said, "Aw, crap! It's The Matrix!" But the Hell and Heaven of the movie aren't really like that. Which is good.

There's a connection here with Hellboy. In both, the lead actor's acting was obscured. In Hellboy it was by 20 pounds of red makeup. In Constantine it's Keanu's pale, blank face.

Horror stories with a freaky twist are the new Next Big Thing in movies. Constantine fits right in; his comics have been all over that for 20 years. The movie has that dark, gritty texture of all the Current Horror, except that it's got a comic book hero in it.

No Heather Locklear, though. Maybe in the sequel.

Every humor editor Joe Crowe has its thorn.

 
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