Monday, February 21, 2005

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And together we are...WYLD STALLYNS!

Well, I just got home from seeing CONSTANTINE. I said I wasn't, but I did. And y'know what? It didn't suck. Much.

Of course, the biggest liability was Keanu, and his mumbling, monotone performance was at best disappointing and at worst unwatchable, especially if you know anything at all about the character he's supposed to be portraying. Casting was iffy for the whole film, with only Tilda Swinton, as the androgynous angel Gabriel, and Rachel Weisz as that type of character which is indigenous to this sort of thing, the sexy police detective, really bringing any dimension to their roles. Djimon Hounsou, as hoodoo man Papa Midnite (in the comics, an adversary from the first two or three issues, and still dead as far as I can remember there) wasn't bad but didn't have much to do. Gavin Rossdale made the most of his stunt casting as a demon. I didn't care at all for Peter Stormare's lip-smacking, eye-rolling portrayal of Lucifer; he thought he was being over-the-top, I suppose, but he just struck me as silly. I also didn't think much of the decision to rewrite Conjob's loyal but somewhat dense cabbie friend Chas as an eager young taxi-driving chauffeur/apprentice exorcist- I guess the thinking was "Constantine is a comic book character, comic-book characters have eager young sidekicks, we have to give Johnny one!" Shia LeBeouf didn't really do much with the part, either.

Fortunately, that was the one time the script kowtowed to comic-book conventions; otherwise, Constantine stayed pretty close to the established supernatural Exorcist-style movie thriller formula. It never condescended, and that was welcome, and even managed to work in some references to the comics series here and there- some to good effect, some not so. The film was deliberately paced, but there were enough tense moments and action sequences to keep me from getting bored. I wasn't expecting a thrill-a-minute Raiders of the Lost Ark approach, anyway. I was impressed with many of the special-effects set-pieces; the opening exorcism was exciting, the scene with John and the detective, outside on the dark streets and facing a demon attack was nicely done, and the interludes in Hell were effective. The whole thing was dark visually without being oppressive, a problem not only movies of this type have but comics as well. Director Francis Lawrence wisely let some color punctuate the gloom from time to time. I wished there had been a bit more of the comics Constantine's sarcastic humor- the few times Keanu got to crack wise seemed forced, and he delivers them in such a low-key fashion that the effect is negligible. I didn't like Constantine's reliance on weapons throughout; as neat as that golden gun looked, the comics' JC would have sneered at that sort of thing. And the little interlude on the roof at the end, and the way it spit on the clever ending of the Garth Ennis JC-gets-cancer story, was just annoying.

So, to sum, questionable casting, poor perf by Keanu, impressive visually, and strong enough story-wise not to piss me off. Constantine is no masterpiece, but it's not the trainwreck I've been dreading all this time since I first heard who was going to play the title role. This being said, I'm inclined to be charitable since I got in free; my daughter started working at the movie theatre a few days ago and let me use her pass. If you pay, you might be a little less tolerant.

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