Last time on “Relax and Enjoy the Show” I pulled the skewer out of Ryan Reynolds’ chest, pronouncing the Green Lantern movie to be “enjoyable.” A stance I stand by with a medium amount of commitment. However, that movie was near-universally loathed, so the work was difficult, the hours longer, the benefits package unsatisfying. This week, the movie I’m taking the bullet for is 2005’s “Constantine” movie, starring Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, and Lucifer Morningstar.
Constantine is a Bible-Noir movie about John Constantine (Reeves), a hard-edged exorcist and occult expert who smokes like a fish. He wears long coats, skinny ties, and sort of hates everyone. He killed himself in his youth, and got to play peek-a-boo with the flamey horrors of hell before being revived. Ever since, he’s tried to jimmy the lock on the gates of Heaven by doing good deeds, saving lost souls, and sticking his dress shoes up demon asses.
Rachel Weisz plays an immortal actress who never ages and always looks amazing. Oh, sorry, no, that’s just Rachel Weisz. The character she plays is named Angela (…), a police detective trying to solve the death of her twin sister. Obviously she collides sexfully with Constantine who . . . has no interest in having sex with her, or even helping her. Still, the two of them get into an adventure with demons, mysteries, extremely colorful characters, and that chick from Narnia.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 46% (or 2.5 stars)
Equal or Greater Score: Olympus has Fallen AND White House Down
Oh hold the fucking tauntauns here. There are kidney stone expellations that are more entertaining then either of those movies.
Around my fellow geeks, the Constantine movie is a bit of a sore spot, like after someone has punched your face and there’s a sore spot. You see, “Constantine” is based off a comic book series called “Hellblazer,” which is about a blonde Liverpudlian wizard named John Constantine (pronounced T-I-N-E, like F-I-N-E). Now, the movie makes one of the cardinal sins of movie adaptations – it has almost nothing to do with the comic book series. Let’s take a look at the differences, shall we?
Keanu Reeves’ “John Constantine” from the movie is:
A) Not British
D) Not a wizard
Heck, his name is even pronounced differently: “Constan-TEEN” instead of “TINE.” As far as “faithful adaptations” go, it’d be liked making a Spider-Man movie where “Peter Park” is a young Korean gymnast who learns to fight crime by learning “Spider-Style” Kung Fu from, I don’t know, let’s say Jeff Bridges. Needless to say, fans of the comic were instantly brassed off. Then they found out it was being directed by a music video director. And it was set in Los Angeles. And Constantine had the power to see “half-breeds,” a power and a monster that didn’t even exist in the books. Oh, and you know, it would be starring Keanu Reeves.
Keanu Reeves “bad acting” jokes are like Samuel L. Jackson movies: numerous, and extremely flexible in quality. Here are a few tastful quotes from reviewers commenting on Reeves acting:
“Lovingly hewn from his usual stack of two-by-fours, Keanu Reeves’ plank-like reincarnation of grumpy, chain-smoking exorcist-about-town John Constantine . . . does give more than a passing nod to a certain ‘Neo.’” – LZ
“Virtually anyone but Reeves would have made a better John Constantine. Reeves is a wooden icon where the story demands a complex and sympathetic figure.” Tasha Robinson
“Reeves, meanwhile, has confidently entered his self-parodic period.” – Ken Tucker
Jesus, talk about a cold breeze.
Why They’re Wrong
Let’s start with the most vapid sign that “Constantine” at least deserves a sequel, and move up from there: the movie made 230+ million dollars, well over twice the budget. That’s officially a box office success. Now, that certainly doesn’t speak to any kind of quality, but we can at least knock “box office bomb” off the list of complaints.
Now let’s cover the “terrible adaptation” complaint: you’re right. As far as accuracy goes, “Constantine” is a lot like the “Doom” movie. “Doom” is a video game about a portal to hell opening up on Mars, and the human space station being destroyed by demons. The “Doom” movie is about an “evil gene” that makes people evil, and it isn’t on Mars. Why even call it “Doom?” Good question. But do you want to know why the Doom movie is an awful piece of shit? Because the acting is terrible. The script makes no sense. The special effects are rubbery and cheap, and the “first-person” sequence is SyFy-original bad. It doesn’t just take a dinosaur crap on the source material – it takes a crap on the audience, and on movies in general.
Why did they make the Constantine movie so different from the comics? I don’t know, and it makes no sense for them to deviate so far from the source material. Then why, Bobby, you may ask yourself (if you knew my name was Bobby), do you give Constantine a free pass? Because it’s still a good movie, all by itself. “Doom” relied on a crunchy layer of references to disguise the turd candy bar they were feeding you. Constantine has good acting. Constantine has a compelling plot. Constantine has a full realized world filled with extremely colorful characters.
Constantine’s gadget-provider, a quirky wierdo named “Beeman,” is likable and sympathetic. Djimon Hounsou plays “Papa Midnite,” who is sorta-kinda based off a character from the comics, and he’s completely riveting. Midnite is the kind of movie-stealing character you wish desperately was in every scene. Shia “The Beef” LaBeouf’s sidekick character, “Chas,” is pathetic and oddly lovable, a smirky rogue one minute and a wide-eyed kid the next. Shia earned enough good will in Constantine for me to sit through all three “Transformers” movies. If that doesn’t speak toward the movie’s impact, I don’t know what does. Even the short-lived alcoholic priest, the hilariously named Father Hennessey, is entirely memorable years after having seen the flick. Constantine even managed to make an actor out of Bush leadsinger Gavin Rossdale, who pulls off a silky, unnerving performance as the half-demon Balthazar.
Tilda Swinton also completely rocks the house as the androgynous half-breed angel Gabriel. She’s all quiet British intensity juxtaposed with moments of shrieking zealotry, and is genuinely compelling and unnerving in equal parts. Criminally, I didn’t mention her in the original version of this article, so allow me to repair the damage. Here’s a taste:
The movie is also shot beautifully – the dynamism of the camera and the sorrowful long shots are inspiring. When we watch an exorcism from the viewpoint of a lonely cigarette burning out of existence, it tells us everything we need to know about the movie’s plot in the first scene. No dialogue necessary, no scrolling exposition. It’s all right there, on camera. The sight of Hell as a burned-out Los Angeles is about as apt as it gets. The compelling-but-bizzare images like Constantine holding a cat with his feet in a tub of water, made hilarious by being played completely straight. Rachel Weisz wearing a soaked-through white shirt.
The movie also builds the kind of world I want to revisit, giving you explanation only sometimes, other times handing you only half the information and letting you know that there are some things you’re just not going to know. Screech beetles apparently make fallen angels freak out. Why? What’s the backstory there? Where did Papa Midnite come from? How does a person even get in the position to own a bar frequented by angels and demons? Why is everyone so afraid of him? It offers a peak into a larger magical world, but doesn’t try to hold your hand throughout the experience.
Constantine is the kind of movie that I can’t talk about without immediately wanting to go watch it. It’s full of those “OH THAT’S RAD” moments, the kind I’m still yapping about years after the fact. The exorcism-via-mirror? It feels smart, and original, and it’s visually memorable. Brass knuckles carved with crosses and angelic script? Clever. Giving a screaming, protesting demon his last rites so he’ll go to Heaven? Brilliant. The entrance into a magical bar being dependent on displaying your psychic powers? Cool. There’s a holy shotgun, and a scene where the water in a sprinkler system is blessed. It’s the kind of script you can feel someone giving a shit about when they wrote it, which is quite rare nowadays.
As for Keanu Reeves’ acting, I’ll admit it isn’t for everyone. I’ve always been a Keanu Reeves defender, because I think when cast correctly he does a great job. As long as he doesn’t have to do an accent (coughDraculacough) or play someone who’s wildly animated, Keanu has a quiet Zen charm that makes for an easy-to-root-for protagonist. In Constantine he even flexes himself a little, and does an admirable job of playing the world-weary asshole compelled to do good despite all the shit he’s seen.
If all that doesn’t matter to you, it at LEAST has the best depiction of Lucifer in movie history:
Getting annoyed that you didn’t get to see a movie version of the thing you like is valid – but saying a movie isn’t good because it’s different doesn’t make sense. As a nerd who’s been burned many times, I know it’s hard to let go of that desire to protect the things you love. However, we do have to remember to try to judge things like this on their own merits – Constantine is a fun, thrilling movie with decent world-building and some truly inspired moments.
Plus it has Rachel Weisz in a soaked-through white shirt.