Reeves isn’t appropriate for lead character in ‘Constantine’

“Constantine” is the latest in the never-ending stream of comic book movies that have been pouring out of Hollywood since “X-Men” and “Spiderman” took the box office by storm. As comic book movies go “Constantine” better than most. It almost reaches the level of ultimate coolness, but falls short. Because so much of the movie is so right, its failings are infinitely more irksome.

The comic book this movie sprang from is called “Hellblazer” and focuses on a character named John Constantine. In his world, heaven and hell have a standing bet with the souls of men hanging in the balance. Earth is populated with half angels and half demons, and Constantine is a guy who runs around deporting demons. In the film, Constantine (Keanu Reeves) is doing this in an attempt to avoid hell, which is his destination on account of a suicide attempt when he was a teen. He encounters a beautiful cop named Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz) whose twin sister has committed suicide under mysterious and possibly supernatural circumstances. Constantine is entangled in a web of intrigue when he discovers there is much more to this suicide than meets the eye.

“Constantine” got so many things so very right. The supernatural world presented in the movie is as logical as such a subject matter can be. The presentation is straightforward and matter of fact, and the many explanations are written into the movie in an organic way. The special effects are visually impressive without being over the top and showy. This aspect of the film, often the most difficult to accomplish in this sort of movie, is handled with rare expertise.

The story is nothing too jaw dropping, but it’s more than serviceable. Plot is a different sort of animal in a movie like “Constantine,” where basically anything can happen. There’s always a new demon with different abilities, a new spell with different properties, or a new magical artifact with the power to destroy the world. Believability should not be an issue. In “Constantine,” the outrageous supernatural plot is well paced and logically presented.

Liberties have been taken with the character of Constantine. I’ve never read the comic, but I’ve learned some things about it. Constantine is a blonde Englishman who operates out of London, and here is Reeves who operates out of Los Angeles. Constantine is a self-serving anti-hero in the comic, and in the movie he is a tormented champion with a heart of gold. Undoubtedly, the comic’s darker anti-hero would be infinitely more interesting. While some purists may bemoan the change, I understand Hollywood’s need to pretty everything up and I’m willing to forgive.

The film’s unforgivable blunder lies in casting Reeves in the title role. He carried “The Matrix” movies just fine and was exemplary in the role of Ted “Theodore” Logan in the Bill and Ted movies, but the part of Constantine is not a good fit for him. Constantine is written to be a crafty trickster with a sarcastic sense of humor, and Reeves plays him as being tormented and unflinchingly serious. The lines in the movie seem to indicate a character that is different from the one portrayed, and this becomes a major flaw. Reeves’ super-serious Constantine is not a fun guy to spend two hours with as the screenplay’s Constantine was clearly intended to be.

Reeves must be applauded for refusing to do the English accent, however. His dialect work is atrocious, and apparently he realized this after his turn as a Brit in “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.” Unfortunately, the script was not retouched and Constantine’s lines are still very British. What you wind up with is Reeves using words like “fellow,” and it just sounds silly.

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“Constantine” is like a beautiful painting with a hole in the middle. It’s impossible to get the full effect, but still well worth looking at what’s there.