The latest comic book adaptation, "Constantine" is based on the "Hellblazer" series, a dark collection about a bitter, chain-smoking Brit who looks like Sting and who fights demons and other ghouls from Hell so that he can buy his way into Heaven. Though I have not read any of the comics, it is understandable that fans have been screaming bloody murder, as "Constantine" is not very gritty, and its title character is noticeably American and played by Keanu Reeves.
In this rendition of the comic, Reeves' John Constantine discovers something has disrupted "the balance" between Heaven and Hell when he performs an exorcism on a rare demon. As he seeks the truth, a police detective finds her way to his doorstep as she tries to understand the reasoning behind the suicide of her twin sister, which of course is connected to the rise of the son of the Devil.
The visual effects are what make the movie, and "Constantine" is full of them. First-time director Francis Lawrence, who has only done music videos in the past, employs a lot of neat special effects that really add to the style of the film. Strangely, it is the subdued and smaller effects that are the most impressive, while the most obvious, a.k.a. the demons, are nothing special. I don't know if the demons look like something out of the comic book, but they don't look all that great, and the film would have benefited from more mystery, or, at the very least, better-looking monsters.
Of course, where Lawrence's skill with neat effects help the film, his utter lack of directing a feature-length movie hurts it a whole lot more. Why Hollywood continues to hire music video directors is beyond me, although, to Lawrence's credits, he has more potential than some names such as McG. Regardless of how the plot points in the movie compare to those in the comic book, "Constantine" suffers from a severe lack of pacing and suspense. It moves along at a quick pace, but oftentimes at too quick a pace, as the movie seems to be nothing more than a collection of random Constantine-fighting-demon scenes. The editing really suggests that there will be an extended version with another hour of footage, as it was quite clear when huge chunks of a scene had been left on the cutting room floor.
Weirdly enough, it seems as though Lawrence and the screenwriters kept the basic plot from one of the comic books and the ending suggests the same, but the rest of the movie is inundated with random and ultimately lackluster action sequences that really do not help the story at all. The lame-looking bug demon sequence was the worst of all, but plenty of other action "moments" are left unfulfilled.
Perhaps I was just tired, but "Constantine" wasn't very suspenseful. Neither the music nor editing are used effectively to establish a sense of mounting danger. The scene where Constantine fights the demon that killed his friend should have been a major moment, but not only was the fight nothing to be excited about, but Lawrence never suggested to us, the audience, through his use of directing tricks, that we should even consider getting excited about it. The same goes for the ending. The ending is a bit disappointing in that it really isn't as action-packed as you would expect, but it could have been pulled off had Lawrence known how to mix music with his visuals. And this coming from a music video director.
Lastly, I did not like Keanu Reeves at all. While I am not one of the many who try to make fun of his stale version of acting every chance they get, I must admit that he is especially stale here and not very fun to watch on screen at all. From a marketing viewpoint, he was probably the best choice, but from a creative viewpoint he was probably one of the worst. The character is based on Sting, the singer, but Reeves shares no similarities whatsoever. Doesn't Warner Brothers owe anything to the fans who ultimately decide the fate of this movie?
All that being said, "Constantine" works on a rudimentary level. There are some spooky parts, there are some entertaining parts, and Rachel Weisz is nice to watch. The special effects are very impressive at times and Tilda Swinton's portrayal of Gabriel is pretty interesting, if not ultimately restricted by the screenplay. It's a good popcorn movie and will probably make a good rental, but "Constantine" is definitely not a movie that should ever have been classified as a popcorn flick. It should have been darker, grittier and more edgy. A different director, perhaps one with independent filmmaking experience, would have been a better choice.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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