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Sadly, there are echoes of my first
date, in the picture above.
(Hollywood remake or sequel, or film based on a comic book, book, play or video game # 8, since January 1st, 2005. Click for full list of Hollywood's lack of original ideas.)
Review written by: Alex Sandell
Drunkenly pissing in public places ...
I started collecting the Hellblazer comic with issue 37. I collected through issue 85. So, although I spent over four years reading the comic monthly, I can't claim to be an expert on the title. To my credit, I also read the deliciously nasty "Bad Blood" Hellblazer miniseries that came out in 2000. It featured a very old and ragged John Constantine (is there ever a non-ragged Constantine, outside of those days when Keanu Reeves is playing him?) investigating a religious cult that worshipped Princess Diana, in-between drunkenly pissing in public places. Fun stuff. The reason I quit collecting the comic in early 1995 is because Garth Ennis stopped writing it. I liked the work of Jamie Delano, but when Ennis took his place, I actually preferred his work on the series -- quickly converting me into a bit of a Hellblazer fanboy ("Hellblazer" was my CB handle, for years. I don't know what's more embarrassing -- using a comic book title as your handle, or having a "handle" in the first place, over.). I can't remember who picked up the mantle after Ennis left, and my comics are currently stuffed away in little white cardboard coffins, at an undisclosed location, so I can't fill you in, but no matter who it was writing the series, it was no longer Garth Ennis. So I became all pissy -- as fanboys are prone to do -- and said, "I'm not collecting this anymore!" And so I didn't. I only briefly went back on my word when buying the aforementioned "Bad Blood" miniseries. But over those 4+ years of co-existing in the 2-D world that Constantine inhabited, I did pick up enough to know that 1. Constantine is British 2. Constantine has reddish blonde hair, gray hair, blonde hair -- pretty much anything but black hair 3. Constantine relies more on his dry British wit than he does his Hollywood good looks 4. Constantine doesn't live in Los Angeles 5. Constantine isn't Keanu Reeves. If they did feel compelled to cast an American to play the British anti-hero, they should have looked no further than Denis Leary -- the guy looks, sounds, acts, smokes and drinks like the actual John Constantine!
But wait! The director worked with Britney Spears!!!
Why Hollywood picks up comic book properties, only to completely change everything that made them special, is beyond me. When I first heard of this project, I said, "there's no way I'm going to see that!" Keanu Reeves can't really act, so couldn't they have at least dyed his hair and told him to lay off the facelifts, until filming's complete? Maybe that way he could have looked the part, even if he didn't sound or act it. If you haven't read the comic book, the only way I can describe how miscast Reeves is is by asking you to picture Leonardo DiCaprio playing Russell Crowe's part in the prequel to The Gladiator. DiCaprio's a great actor, but he's no Maximus. That's sort of like Keanu Reeves -- outside of the "great actor" part. Reeves is not, not, not John Constantine. I understand we need to have equal opportunity in the workplace, but when it comes to casting directors, maybe there are some careers that deaf and blind people just aren't suited for. Oh, was I despising everything about Constantine. The fact they couldn't even call it Hellblazer. Imagine Warner Bros. calling the next Batman movie Wayne. Ugh! This is the second time a Keanu Reeves movie has had "Hell" taken out of the title. It first occurred when Bill and Ted Go To Hell was renamed, Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey. The Southern states like their titles controversy free. I still laugh over the theaters in the lower red states changing Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me to The Spy Who Slugged Me. Because slugging people is okay, but shagging is a sin. Hellboy was changed to Heckboy or HB at many theaters in the "moral" states. Seriously. Anyhoo ... my screening pass for Hellblaz ... er ... Constantine arrived in the mail and I decided, "What the hell, I'll go, it's free and it is my job to sit through stupid movies." I jotted down a note in one of the oversized squares on my "Calendars for Alzheimer's" calendar, called up a friend and made it a date. Then the press kit arrived. When I read the kit's description of the director's credentials, I erased the note from its oversized square, called up my friend and cancelled the date. In regards to the director, the press kit read:
"Francis Lawrence has helmed videos for some of the biggest superstars in music, winning just about every award in the process. The young director was recognized in 2003 for his innovative work on Justin Timberlake's 'Cry Me a River' video. He has been recognized several times by the MTV video Music Awards ... and has worked with an eclectric (sp) group of artists ... such as Britney Spears, Janet Jackson, Will Smith and Aerosmith."
And this is a good thing how? A misspelled "eclectic" must be Hollywood codeword for "crap," because this guy has worked with some of the worst entertainers in history. This is supposed to make me want to see the movie?
We're not in MTV, anymore ...
Of course I ended up selling out, just like Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Janet Jackson, Will Smith and Aerosmith, and went to the film. To my surprise, it didn't start with swirling cameras and a death metal soundtrack. Actually, it started out with an almost shot for shot remake of those shots of Gollum holding up his precious ring -- only it took place in a desert that looked like the beginning of The Exorcist. It seemed to be directed by an adult. It even seemed to be directed for adults. Imagine Chinatown, with an inferior script and lots of demons -- the publicity department at WB certainly did ...
What's left to say? ...
The opening jolts the audience and elicits a cheer. Constantine's first scene with a demon and a mirror gets a few gasps and a lot of laughter (the good, jittery kind -- not the, "this movie sucks," sort). Within minutes, my suspicions that this would be nothing like the comic were checked and double checked. To my surprise, my prediction that the film would suck was wrong. If you go in expecting a faithful adaptation of the comic book (and, in a perfect world, that wouldn't be such a bad thing to do), you're going to be sorely disappointed. But if you're looking for a deliberately paced thriller, with noirish nods at hinted romance, you could do worse. Keanu Reeves is not any better than he usually is, but he's passable (just not as the comic book version of John Constantine). Rachel Weisz, playing the Dobson twins, gives a beautiful performance, and one that I would have never expected to see in a schlocky February horror release about a bet between God and Satan. The special effects are good. The demons look cool. Peter Stormare -- Sweden's claim to fame, primarily because it's either him or the Nobel Peace Prize -- is so much fun as Lucifer ("Lou"), it makes the rest of the movie worth it. The film only leaves two questions: why was Chas Chandler (Shia LaBeouf) some stupid kid sidekick, rather than the mature adult drinking buddy I remember him being in the comic book, and what the fuck was up with those tattoos on Constantine's arms? Did I miss something?
The Final Word ...
Constantine is no Hellblazer, but if you can get past that, it's a fun little film worth the full price of admission.
And stay until after the credits, for a nice little bonus scene.
Agree? Disagree? Have questions? Comments? Email this critic at firstname.lastname@example.org
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