written by Kevin Bodbin and Frank Cappello from comics by Garth Ennis and Jamie Delano

directed by Francis Lawrence

starring Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weiss, Tilda Swinton and Peter Stormare


review by Stephen Notley

Quick tip for those not in the nerd loop: Constantine is based on a comic, a pretty good one called Hellblazer which covers the exploits of one John Constantine, English, tall, good-looking, blond, trenchcoat-wearing, a shifty little working-class con artist who takes the piss and runs his grifts on angels, demons and all the various brands of wanker and tosser in between. He does magic, but not the hocus-pocus spellcasting junk; it's more about just being on a first-name basis with half the beings in the pantheon. He's bluff and bluster, a rake at the gates of hell. He's a great character; you should check out the comic.

At some point Hollywood came along and decided to make a movie version. As they so often do, they started by yanking out a central element, John's Englishness, teleporting him thousands of miles west to L.A. and reconstituting him as an American played by Keanu Reeves. For nerds, this is reason enough to check out and assume that they've "screwed it up". But regular folk haven't read the comic and care not for the fidelity of the adaptation, so the real question is: having removed this central component of the character, did the filmmakers have any good ideas of their own around which they could reconstitute Constantine in a way that makes sense?

The answer is, yes, sort of. Keanu's Constantine isn't the John of the comics, but he's pretty cool for a movie character, a gritty, hard-boiled exorcist who smokes constantly. His first scene's a lulu, a mirror-assisted demontation with loads of visual flair. He's got tons of backstory, too. It seems that when he was a kid, he could see demons. His parents thought he was crazy and put him in the nut hatch, which he hated so much he killed himself. He was revived, but his life-changing death experience taught him A) Heaven and Hell are real, B) suicide is a mortal sin, and C) since he killed himself, he's going to hell when he dies again. Oh, and he's got lung cancer. So what's a guy to do but go around dispelling demons in the hopes that he can score enough points with God to overlook the whole suicide thing?

In the course of this action he gets mixed up with Rachel Weiss as a cop investigating the death of her twin sister, and soon we're off to the races in a plot that involves several flashy demon fights, multiple day trips to an smoking deep-orange L.A.-style Hell, a cat, encounters with Orlando's Tilda Swinton as the angel Gabriel and Fargo's Peter Stormare as Lucifer, numerous submergings in water, several unearthly whisking-aways and a big flamethrowing cross-gun that shoots holy water bullets.

Lots of stuff, much of it pretty cool. Whether it really adds up to anything is another question. Folks unfamilar with Hellblazer won't be able to tell that the story is a kludged-together assemblage of scenes, bits, ideas and lines of dialogue from various storylines from the comic combined with more Hollywood-esque stuff like the big cross-gun; they'll just see Keanu marchin' around zapping demons and getting the job done and at the end of the day, well, he quits smoking. Satisfying? You decide. As a horroresque action movie, Constantine has a lot to offer, plenty of cool bits throughout, some effective scenes, good fun. For the Hellblazer reader, the most likely reaction is wistful regret for the movie that could've been, a real adaptation set in England with a guy like Paul Bettany as John. But hey --that's Hollywood!