Sunday, February 20, 2005

Looking To The Stars: Constantine- A Review

We're going to do something totally different this time. Because I am sick of reviewing movies and then seeing other writers saying that is unfair for me to judge something as an adaptation of another work. So for the sake of argument, we're going to give it a shot.

We are going to ignore the fact that this movie takes considerable liberties with the original comics on which they are nominally based.

We are going to ignore the fact Alan Moore, who has had quite a few of his books turned into movies that took considerable liberties with the source material, demanded to have the "Created By" credit removed from THIS movie.

We are going to ignore all issues of adaptation, continuity, original characterization and such minutia as to Chas Chandler, tough guy cabbie and John's only friend to not die being transformed into Chas Kramer, wannabe sorcerer and little wimp. We are just going to look at one simple question. Is this movie, in and of itself and its own world, any good?

Short answer. No. Long answer to begin in the next paragraph.

As a film, Constantine fails on all nearly every front. Though there are some small features that might win it redemption, this film should be damned to the movie theaters in Hell. But lest we think I'm all doom and gloom, I'm going to start out with some things about the movie I did like.

1. Papa Midnite

The one character in the movie that shows signs of an interesting personality. Actually, the only character who shows ANY sort of personality, but why quibble? This may well explain why, out of all the characters who could have gotten a solo comics-series this year, a Hellblazer villain who died in the books ten years ago after two appearances was chosen. Some suit at WB probably saw the movie and said "This guy is cool. Let's get a comic about him!"

2. Constantine's Entrance

The first scene, I actually had some hope. Sure, the trenchcoat is nice and black. His suit is clean and he looks way too clean-cut. But the walk... the sneer... the way he lit the cigarette, looking like a walking Tim Bradstreet painting. Physically, Keanu managed to be John Constantine for one minute. It all went downhill as soon as he began talking, but it was better than I had hoped for.

3. Settings

The sets in this flick were gorgeous. Full props to the set-makers and props people for making the backdrops more lifelike than the actors.

4. Music
The film does have some nice background tunes. I was particularly surprised to hear Dave Brubeck's "Take Five". It's the jazz song playing on the record when John is examining magical artifacts near the start of the flick.

5. Woah? No.

Keanu does not say "Woah" once in the movie. Color me surprised.

Besides that, the whole thing lies there like a corpse.

The plot is pretty standard horror stuff, with the names changed to bear some slight resemblance to the Vertigo comic Hellblazer. John Constantine is an unwilling expert on fighting the forces of darkness, trying to buy his way into Heaven after being diagnosed with lung cancer: the result of a 30-a-day-since-15 smoking habit. The end of the world is nigh and John is drug into trying to stop Armageddon after starting to investigate whether or not a mental patient's suicide really was a suicide. Naturally, there's a love interest to rescue (Rachel Weisz, as the suicide and her twin sister, who is a cop), a hapless (re: annoying) sidekick, a host of colorful (re: drunk and weird) associates and The Devil himself mugging it up worse than Robin Williams after a three-day crack binge.

The performances here are a study in contrast. Half the actors overact with a shamelessness to make William Shatner blush (Shia LaBeouf, as Chas is particularly grating). The other half look stoned or bored. Keanu Reeves is, as usual, the biggest offender in this area. When asked by the woman he is helping to awaken her ability to have visions if she needs to get completely naked before entering a full bathtub, he makes no physical reaction other than to stare blankly and then say "I'm thinking" when she asks for an answer. Rachel Weisz is not much better, being able to smile vacantly but little else.

The CGI is also a bit of a weak point. While it is an improvement on some of last summer's horror/action movies and tons better than Van Helsing, it still fails to feel seamless. A bit of a nitpick, but other movies with lower budgets have managed to look more convincing.

Finally, the movie seems unclear about its own rules and mythology. We are told repeatedly that demons cannot physically manifest on Earth, which is why they have to possess people spiritually. And yet, these rules are broken several times... John is attacked by a demon made of roaches, he and the cop are attacked by several flying beasties and the Devil himself walks the Earth with relative ease. No explanation other than an instance that demons cannot walk the Earth is ever given for how the rules are being broken. I'm also curious about the existence of half-breed demons and half-breed angels if said beings cannot manifest physically. Then again, I'm not THAT curious if it means hearing a lecture upon the mating habits of trans-dimensional beings.

All in all, I'll give Constantine a solid 3 for effort. It might be worth checking out on video if you're fond of "Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Home Game", but its worthless for much else. And if you're a die-hard fan of the books, do not watch this movie under any circumstance short of being force at gunpoint. You'll be much happier. Trust me.

This review is dedicated to my friend Aaron, without whom I would have had to pay good money to have seen this movie.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

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