3 stars

29th March 2005

Based on the cult DC/Vertigo comic Hellblazer, Constantine tells the story of an urban sorcerer (Keanu Reeves) helping a cop (Rachel Weisz) investigating her sister's apparent suicide. As a reader of issues 1-190, and a fan of the character in his various comic appearances from Swamp Thing and various other comic book cameos, I sat down to watch what I hoped wasn't an utter train wreck of a movie adaptation. In a perfect world a Constantine movie would star Gary Oldman, would remain set in a grimy, stylised London and be a hard eighteen drenched in blood and gore and be written by Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver). Still, we have to make do with what Hollywood decides for us... The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen still leaves a foul taste in the mouth.

The plot involves demons, half-breeds and a battle between heaven and hell for the souls of mankind. So that's The Prophecy in other words, but dumber, with a bigger budget and missing the always magnificent Christopher Walken. As a transition from comic to screen, I was extremely concerned that it would fail miserably, but shock horror... it's actually pretty good. It's not a horror, but more The Prophecy by way of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, with elements of the Blade movies thrown in for good measure. After the initial very aggressive exorcism (amazingly energetic and imaginative), I had high hopes for it and while it never quite reaches that level of excitement again, the invention shown throughout the movie provide a more satisfying experience than the opening buzz alone.

Reeves manages to convert the Liverpudlian ex-punk street magician (not in the David Blaine sense, although I'd pay good money to see Reeves incarcerated in a plastic box for forty days with no food and sausages thrown at him regularly) into a Los Angeles native, with his long suffering friend Chas converted into the comic relief. Surprisingly, former music video director Francis Lawrence has managed to get the essential essence of the character, namely that he's a total bastard and will leave pain and suffering in his wake with a wisecrack and a tab flicked in your face. Reeves is admittedly pretty poor at doing this, and you have to almost join the dots, but as least he tries, bless him. Some knowledge of the comics is at times a bonus ("You'll just die, and be another ghost to follow me around"), but it is by no means essential. The closing gesture to a major bad guy is straight out of the comics too, and gave me a massive grin while I nodded my appreciation.

It's not perfect by any means. The cancer subplot adds nothing to the movie and functions as a Deus ex Machina for the final confrontation with the gloriously silly, scenery-chewing bad guy. The plot also gets very confusing in the second act - the immortality-giving spear of destiny (the one that pierced Christ's side) appears in the introduction, shown to be an extremely powerful and dangerous weapon, then... erm, doesn't end up doing very much. A few scenes are ripped off from other, better movies, too - a slow motion explosion of glass could be the circus popcorn scene from Big Fish, the chair in the second act functions much the same way as Professor Xavier's psychic enhancer and there's even a scene ripped straight from Pitch Black. Damn, any movie featuring using a cat while sitting in a pot of water to open a gateway to Hell (a fire ravaged parallel dimension, one of the ideas electing a "coooool" from myself) doesn't seem to be short of ideas, so why rip off other movies?

One element I had thought looked totally ridiculous in publicity stills was the "holy shotgun" and it's still pretty daft, but in the context of where John gets it from, it begrudgingly makes sense. Hell, Constantine later breaks out a pair of gold knuckle dusters, complete with Christian crosses engraved on them at which point I had "Oh, Lord, bless this thy hand grenade that with it thou mayest blow thy enemies to tiny bits, in thy mercy" running through my head. Fortunately, I was so into the universe the movie created by this point I just thought "why not?"

Rachel Weisz performs admirably with the daft and problematic script, as does Tilda Swinton, who is way too feminine to be an asexual Angel Gabriel. I didn't want to hit Shia LaBeouf's Chas too many times either, which was a surprise as I usually despise comic relief sidekick characters. The only real let down are both Gavin Rossdale and Djmon Hounsou's characters, who aren't really given much to do, and look as if many of their scenes will end up on the editing room floor. Hopefully the DVD will extend many areas of the movie, and allow a more coherent vision of John Constantine's world.

I wanted to hate this movie. I wanted to rip it to tiny little shreds, lording my knowledge of the character over the people who have never read the comic. The simple fact is I watched it expecting a disaster on the lines of the previously mentioned League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Which I didn't get. Don't expect a movie revelation, don't expect a life-changing event, and don't expect it to make you change your opinion of Keanu's acting abilities. Expect a fast paced, campy, at times imaginative and intelligent, at times derivative and lazy, but ultimately enjoyable supernatural horror flick along the lines of Blade. It's not a horror, but then again nor are the recent crop of "creepy kid" remakes of Japanese originals that quite frankly, bore the arse off me. It's also head and shoulders more fun than crap like Boogeyman too.

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