Wednesday, February 9, 2011


"Demons, angels, and chain-smoking, oh my!"  That's probably what the tag line for this movie should have been; I don't know how accurate the whole "Hell wants him.  Heaven won't have him.  Earth needs him." is to the overall feel of the film.  After finishing up the greatest movie trilogy ever in 2003 (The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions, and Something's Gotta Give), Keanu Reeves was looking for a new way to aggravate nerdy fanboys.  After the disappointment of the Matrix sequels, the obvious choice was for him to star in a comic book movie.  Constantine is the film adaptation of the long-running Hellblazer series, where the main character, John Constantine, wanders around London as kind of a blue-collar warlock with a bad attitude and a habit for getting into trouble.  Why wasn't the movie called Hellblazer?  So it wouldn't get confused for the Hellraiser series, obviously.  I'm serious, that was their reason.  With the affirmation that the filmmakers assume their audience is stupid, let's take a look at Keanu Constantine.

John Constantine is a smart-ass, but he's a tough smart-ass.  When he's not smoking and drinking his life away in a trench coat that looks like it could walk itself home,  he is busy performing all sorts of magical trickery.  You see, John can sense when angels or demons are nearby.  Well, that's not entirely accurate; he can sense when they have possessed a host, which makes them part-human and part-whatever.  John likes to play on the side of angels, when he can, and sends any misbehaving demons back to Hell.  When Angela's (Rachel Weisz) crazy and crazy-religious twin sister committed suicide, Angela doesn't believe it.  When she watches a video of her sister just before jumping to her death, she thinks she hears her sister say "Constantine."  Naturally, she assumes that her sister saw John Constantine on the roof, where she jumped looks for and finds John, who she randomly met the day before, and asks for his help.  John reluctantly agrees, but only because he feels like something nasty is on the horizon, and Angela's sister appears to be the key.  What do you know?  He's right!  But can even the infamous John Constantine battle against the nastiest that Hell has to offer?

Now, when looking at the plot's framework, you might assume that this movie has kind of a suspense/thriller tone.  Nope.  This is an action movie.  I guess that explains Keanu's participation, but with heavy Bible and occult references, this seems like a poor choice for an action movie.

The acting is generally pretty mediocre, which is what you should expect in a Keanu Reeves vehicle.  Keanu manages to not say "whoa" even once (I think), but that's about the best thing I can say about his performance.  His character is sarcastic and world-weary, and should have a more gravelly voice from all the cigarettes he smokes, but Keanu doesn't quite convey these complexities.  I don't know if that is his fault, the director's or maybe whoever cast Keanu Freakin' Reeves as a clever, sarcastic, British bastard --- Reeves would have had a better chance starring in an Alf biopic than pulling off this character.  Rachel Weisz, as the I-don't-believe-in-demons-and-angels-on-Earth character, was surprisingly boring.  I normally like Weisz, but I felt like she was playing down to Keanu's level.  Shia LaBeouf has a small role as Constantine's aspiring apprentice, and he was okay.  SPOILER: He dies like a chump, though.  I liked Djimon Hounsou as the almost pimp-like owner of a angel/demon neutral club.  His part is pretty one-dimensional, but it had some flair.  Gavin Rossdale, of all people, was cast as a minor demon, and he is wretched.  If he had to be in the movie, I would have preferred it if he just read the lyrics to "Machinehead" aloud, instead of trying to emote.  On the bright side, Rossdale makes Reeves look positively professional by comparison.
Gavin Rossdale in Constantine

The best actors were the most powerful characters in the film.  Tilda Swinton played the archangel Gabriel, and her not-quite-human looks worked well with the character.  It was also an interesting idea to have an angel that was actually kind of evil at times.  Peter Stormare, as Satan, was only on-camera for a few minutes late in the movie, but I thought he did a great job.  It was an interesting take on the character, maybe not what I would have done, but Stormare is great at playing slimy characters and, really, is there a slimier character than lounge-suit Satan?
Tilda Swinton will eat your face off, humans.
Since this is an action movie, perhaps it is unfair to focus so much on the acting.  Perhaps.  Well, the action is actually pretty decent.  It's not fabulous, but the special effects look pretty good, for the most part, and the script managed to find ways for Keanu to fight demons and not get killed.  In these scenes, in particular, I thought the script was decently clever.  Most of the action and special effects were just there to make things seem more exciting than they actually were, though.  This film could have been made for half the cost if it didn't choose to use cool-looking, but unimportant, visual effects. 

This was director Francis Lawrence's first feature film after years of directing music videos, and his affinity for fantastic visuals in three-minute chunks is apparent in this movie.  Just as apparent is Lawrence's inexperience with coaching dialogue from his performers.  Gavin Rossdale and Keanu Reeves I can understand reciting lines like rote repetition, but too many supporting characters seemed under-inspired, and that's the director's fault.

Still, this movie does look pretty cool.  There are some stupid things --- a weird foot fetish-esque scene, Hell looks like Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and someone slices their wrists and cuts across the veins --- but the general idea of angels and demons possessing people is a cool one.  So how far do good looks and a nice idea take you?  A long way, actually, unless your movie is sabotaged by poor acting.
I almost gave this 5.5 or 6 stars, but I remembered just how terribly they mangled this premise.  I've read the Hellblazer comic for a few years now, and the stories that they based this movie on are soooo much better than this!  So, here's my pitch: remake this movie, Hollywood!  Cast someone British this time, maybe James Marsters or Paul Bettany, as long as they can deliver truly funny-mean dialogue.  This time, though, instead of trying to win Heaven's favor, Constantine just wants to stay out of Hell.  In the comic, when John discovered that he had lung cancer, he sold his soul to three different demons.  When they realized that they would have to tear Hell apart in a massive battle when John died, they cured him.  Of course, pissing off demons isn't good in the long run.  Right there, you have the first third of a movie.  Second act is building tension toward demons getting even, third act has the Rossdale hitting the fan.  As long as Constantine survives by hit wits and still pays a price, it would be awesome.  And completely unmarketable, I know.


  1. I think James Marsters as Constantine would be AWESOME. He could totally pull off the funny-mean dialogue--he had plenty of it in Buffy, after all.

    And I also agree with what you said about Rachel Weiss. I usually like her a lot, but she was just terrible in this movie I thought. Not convincing at all. But I guess when you surround her with the acting caliber she had beside her in this that is to be expected.

  2. Honestly, i thought Rachel Weisz was the only actor in this movie who knew how to act. Keanu is Keanu, so that's nothing new and Tilda Swinton was awkward to say the least.

    If it was not for Rachel's performance, i would not have made it through this film .

  3. Look, if they wanted a half-assed Scully character, they could have just called up Gillain Anderson in stead of Weisz.