constantine’s saving grace

Finally saw “Constantine.” And you know, it wasn’t that bad a movie. Really.

But it’s better if you’ve never read the Hellblazer comic books and have no idea who the real John Constantine is (and I’m not just talking about his being a Brit but the different facets of his personality) as he was portrayed over the years.

Otherwise, part of you will be protesting that the character Keanu Reeves is portraying barely has anything in common with JC. And yes, banzai cat, I agree — that has to be one of the worst portrayals of onscreen smoking.

Still, I can say that “Constantine” was kind of entertaining, because the special effects were OK and the movie offered glimpses of the great flick it could have been (the mirror exorcism and some of the other scenes with the demons). But the main saving grace would have to be Gabriel and Lucifer.

The way they portrayed Gabriel was particularly noteworthy, and the frightening thing is that in real life, I believe a number of self-righteous religious fanatics would do what she/he/it planned to do. So yeah, even though the plot twist wasn’t particularly unexpected, this Gabriel was more interesting as a character than The Snob of Garth Ennis’ Hellblazer run.

And I guess that’s where “Constantine” failed to deliver even though it was a stylish flick and had its moments. Because the movie wasn’t really able to make Keanu’s Constantine or Rachel Weisz’s Angie and Isabel interesting characters — maybe it’s just me but I didn’t find myself empathizing with them.

Let me put it this way: Keanu’s a cool guy and he was great in “Speed” and the first Matrix flick, but whenever he’s on screen he’s Keanu, not whichever character he’s playing. That’s something I’ve come to expect, so I don’t blame him, but I do blame the filmmakers for casting him. And for some reason Rachel seems doomed to be an actress you don’t really care about, whichever flick she’s in — and having her and Keanu as the main characters acting out their strained non-relationship onscreen is really too much of a challenge for any film to hurdle.

What I don’t get with many flicks based on comic book characters is that filmmakers want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to license a character that’s already had a following among comic book fans in order to get them as a captive audience, but at the same time they want to appeal to the mainstream public, so they change some things.

Which is fine: I don’t expect or want an exact movies to portray characters exactly as they are in comic books, because they’re different mediums. Things that work in the pages of a comic book would look ridiculous onscreen — think of having to see the exact comic-book looks of Green Goblin and Doc Ock on the big screen, or Wolvie’s real costume.

But to tamper this much with the character of John Constantine really takes the cake. Hell, they could have just named Keanu Jack Finkelstein and gone the whole action-I’m-trying-to-be-The-Matrix-except-with-demons-instead-of-a-thousand-stupid-annoying-Agent-Smiths route instead of mucking around with Hellblazer. It’s a pity, ‘coz this flick had style but just couldn’t make up its mind what kind of movie it was going to be.

John Constantine in the comics was one of the biggest bastards around, the guy you loved to hate because he was mostly a poor excuse for a human being who somehow ends up saving the world just the same. Not because he was some hero, but because he kept taking down the forces of evil for personal reasons. The kind of guy who had balls enough to say sod off to the Devil and spike his drink with Holy Water, and actually piss on the King of the Vampires. He had a lot more in common with the original character of Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, before they made Spike a wuss.

Keanu’s character, on the other hand, is just a scowly-faced gumshoe depressed because he’s dying of lung cancer, who just so happens to have a gift (or curse) for seeing spirits and demons (“I can see dead people,” anyone?) and a knack for the occult.

And the only Conjob this film really offers is its futile attempt to make people believe that these two characters are one and the same.

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