Constantine ★★½

Constantine isn't a bad movie, but it isn't a great John Constantine movie.

John Constantine, especially as written by Garth Ennis, who wrote the Dangerous Habits storyline this movie is loosely based on, and the rare case where someone writing a character created by Alan Moore actually did it better than Moore, is a cocky sonofabitch with a mean, gallows sense of humor. He'll crack a joke in the face of doom, knows all the angles, and can make a deal that sets heaven against hell over beers and bar stories. And he's the kind of guy who'll get you to thank him for everything he's done as he leaves you with nothing.

That... is not Keanu Reeves. Keanu Reeves might be the nicest guy in Hollywood, but he's not exactly the kind of guy who could talk you into going out to a dodgy Chinese food place, let alone into the bowels of hell.

Make no mistake, Reeves does okay with this movie. He plays Constantine with a desert-dry sense of humor, but as a loner who eschews human contact, let alone friendships or relationships. And that's not John Constantine from the comics, who makes friends easily. Hell, he's got lots of friends. And he'll betray every last one of them if it gets him what he needs. The John Constantine of the comics is surrounded by people, yet alone. It's a very different choice for the movie, and probably part of why comics people didn't go for the movie.

But it's really not bad! At least, up to a point. The movie creates its own mythology based on Catholicism, where heaven and hell can't intervene on Earth, but versions of angels and demons can roam free and try to convince people to do good or evil. However, some poor dipshit has found the spear used to stab Jesus on the cross, and that can be used to open Earth to all comers, and most of those comers will be bad. Constantine discovers this when he is approached by Rachael Weisz, a devoutly Catholic police detective whose sister killed herself after seeing some of the demons.

There's some fun to be had, particularly in the first half or so of the movie, where we see the kind of practical magic Constantine uses, involving mostly simple things at hand, and the odd strange bug or artifact he gets from an acquaintance.

And other than Reeves, who is okay here for the non-John Constantine character he chooses to play, there's some really cool casting in this. Tilda Swinson is inspired as Gabriel, and Peter Stormare gobbles up the scenery as Satan at the end. Hell, even Shia LeBeouf is less irritating here, in his teen years, than he is in some other movies. That said, Gavin Rossdale should stay away from the silver screen and stick to his strengths: imitating Kurt Cobain and cashing Gwen Stefani's alimony checks.

Sure, the first half of act three gets stupid with a blessed shotgun that unfortunately calls to mind the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, and the flick totally cops out by having Constantine quit smoking. If someone gave me baby-pink new lungs, I'd be on my way to the convenience store for my first pack of Marlboro Reds in 10 and a half years before I could finish saying, "Thank you, Jeebus!" And again, the first thing Constantine did in the comic version was light up. I choose my heroes wisely.

So yeah, in the end, this is not a bad little supernatural action / horror flick, but it is kind of a crappy John Constantine adaptation. Watch it on its own merits, but wait to find the Dangerous Habits trade paperback until afterwards, maybe.

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