A Hellish Experience

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As the remaining lights dimmed and the theater darkened after the seventy-four previews were finally over, being a self-proclaimed whore for all comics under the Vertigo banner I was filled with geeky glee as for the first time ever DC’s Vertigo logo appeared prominently on the big screen before a film. However, any elation and joy I felt faded as quickly as the lights overhead once the latest abysmal adaptation of another brilliant Alan Moore creation began.

By now most probably know the basic premise of the film so I’ll keep it brief. Constantine is a depressed demon hunter who since birth has been given the gift (or curse) of being able to see that not all that walk among us are humans. Due to this warped childhood, Constantine tried to kill himself, thus dooming him to hell. To avoid this he is trying to send enough demons back to hell so he can redeem himself and go to heaven where he feels he belongs. To greatly simplify the overly convoluted plot, in the middle of nowhere, a Mexican digs up a spear that was thrust in Jesus’ side, which gives him tremendous powers; he then takes off to Los Angeles where Constantine must get to him before Satan does.  

Despite being one of the rare Hellblazer fans out there and knowing from the previews that this was not going to be the character I love on screen, I was still optimistic for a semi-entertaining film. What I got was a prime example of how Hollywood can dumb down and completely bastardize wonderful source material in the hopes to profit on the trend of comic book films. The biggest problem the film has is not the miscasting of Keanu but the atrocious script. The movie plods along at an agonizingly slow pace; filled with empty characters we are given no reason to care or cheer for. The film rooted in religious elements attempts to provide heady material for post-film discussion however the writer’s religious background must be comprised of nothing more than seeing The Exorcist a couple times for the theological inconsistencies and clichés appear on screen more than demons and crucifixes. When the final act comes one’s head may actually explode if you were to try to wrap your mind around the mess that unfolds on screen. I am also not quite clear why this movie was called Constantine in the first place. Aside from giving Constantine cancer and the devil does indeed take it away, the movie never acknowledges it’s source material, in fact it seems to be ashamed of it. We get a Constantine that has a bright-eyed teenage sidekick, carries a holy-cross shotgun and has an old man in a secret lair that invents wacky anti-demon gadgets (that include unbelievably hokey ideas like brass knuckles adorned with crucifixes) similar to Whistler in Blade. In fact the entire film resembles Blade much more than the source material.

Keanu is simply dreadful as the title character. He plays a man utterly broken, alone, wanting out of his life doomed with a hellish curse and burden that nobody else in the entire world can share with him, along with dying of lung cancer yet Keanu looks optimistic throughout the film more like he is ready to catch a gnarly wave than battle the devil himself. He tries so hard to force out lines that are suppose to be cool or use props like a cigarette to enhance his cool-factor that it comes across laughable because you know that there is probably a legion of Matrix fans eating this fluff up. What is even scarier is that Keanu may not actually be the most miscast actor in the film. That ‘honor’ goes to the ravishing Rachel Weitz; we are somehow expected to believe that this petite beauty is a LAPD detective on one of the toughest beats any cop can possibly have.

The film has a few bright spots but not nearly enough. Tilda Swinton, who is one of the truly great and grossly underused actresses in Hollywood, plays the second male character of her career and livens up the screen as the androgynous Gabriel. If the film were to end after the first ten minutes it would actually be fairly entertaining as we are given an opening that is both exciting and interesting teasing you to know more but unfortunately that quickly fades. The special effects are the only thing in the film handled technically well however they are completely devoid of imagination. What should be the highlight of the film in its depiction of hell is nothing more than a boring run down town submersed in a hurricane of fire. Films like Dreamscape and What Dreams May Come offer far superior visuals and creativity from the directors, but then again, what more could one expect from a director whose previous work includes a Justin Timberlake video and writers that are responsible for such Hulk Hogan classics as Suburban Commando.

In the end the current string of horrendous comic book based films continues, hopefully soon to be broken with Sin City. I’m sure Constantine will please Matrix devotees or anyone looking for empty special effects laden fare. Personally, the only thing I was left with is wondering which sect should be more offended and outraged; the devout religious or the devout comic book fan.   

 - Glen Siegal


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