I walked into the “overbooked” advance screening of “Constantine” with low expectations. I figured it would be another movie rushed through production, capitalizing on the success of other recent comic adaptations. Starring Keanu Reeves, it would also likely be riding on the wake of Reeves’ popularity from the “Matrix” movies. After viewing this film, I can understand why cameras and camera phones were banned in the theater.
The success of any Reeves film depends solely on the lasting power of his lines. Phrases such as “excellent,” “there’s a bomb on the bus” and “I know kung fu” will forever be part of his repertoire. In this aspect, “Constantine” fails to deliver. Although Reeves does utter some witty one-liners, none of them have enduring qualities. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to imitate Reeves by saying, “My name is Constantine, John Constantine, asshole.”
I’m curious as to why the filmmakers strayed from the original “Hellblazer” comic’s concept of a sarcastic British antihero and his misadventures with the occult. Were they afraid people would be tired of that archetype after “Shaun of the Dead?” Does JK Rowling now hold a trademark over British sorcerers? Reeves’ wooden performance makes it difficult to tell whether Constantine finds himself scared or amused during his various confrontations with angels and demons.
Poor casting aside, the film lacks proper pacing and editing. The camera spends too much time on close ups of Constantine lighting up and taking a drag on his cigarette, but quickly passes over occult artifacts and religious iconography before the audience realizes what they just saw. It is a shame, too, since these elements are meant to immerse the viewer into the macabre world of “Constantine.”
“Constantine” is more about keeping Reeves’ career afloat than anything else. No actor wants to succumb to Mark Hamill syndrome, where a single film franchise simultaneously defines and kills your entire career. This is a transitional movie in Reeves’ filmography – and something to kill the time for Warner Bros. before blockbuster season hits. With an increasing number of comics being adapted to film, it is unfortunate that a mature, non-superhero title like “Hellblazer” gets treated in this fashion.