After The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, From Hell and sundry misadventures in the screen trade, acclaimed comic-book writer Alan Moore has reportedly decided to have nothing more to do with the movie business. Not only is his name not attached to Constantine - which is based on his Vertigo comic-book Hellblazer - but he refused to sully his hands with any money from the production.
Moore may or may not have intended that as a snub, but it's a given that Keanu Reeves is a long way from the snotty blonde Brit who first appeared in print some two decades ago. That John Constantine was apparently modelled on Sting. This John Constantine is more your typical hardboiled Neo-noir anti-hero, in Pulp Fiction suit and tie, and with way-cool anti-demon devices up his sleeves. It's a safe bet the comic-book faithfuls are not going to be impressed. (Though the thought of Sting playing the role is enough to give me nightmares.)
Without these weighty preconceptions, the rest of us can sit back and enjoy the show for what it is: a bigger, splashier version of that cult B-movie, The Prophecy, with Tilda Swinton in the Christopher Walken / angel Gabriel role, and Peter Stormare replacing Viggo Mortensen as Lucifer (here sporting a very natty white suit).
Keanu is your common or garden vigilante exorcist, sending demons back to hell in a forlorn bid to get into heaven on the installment plan. Trouble being he has no faith - he's already seen the afterlife, and knowing you're damned is not the same as believing. Cynical as he is, and riddled with a lethal (but none too visible) cancer, Constantine is nevertheless alarmed to discover that Satan's son is making a power-play to take over the earth, and figures to earn big brownie points by stopping him.
He's abetted by Rachel Weisz as twins (though not at the same time), Shia LaBoeuf as his driver/sidekick, Max Baker's occult gizmo supplier, Djimoun Hounsou's afterlife club-owner and alky priest Pruitt Taylor Vince. That's a lot of company for an avowed loner, but Keanu does his best to remain aloof - at least until one of the Rachels asks if she has to strip off for her bath. (Drowning in the tub being her entree for a sneak peak into hell. All Constantine has to do is sit with his feet in a basin while staring into the eyes of a cat. 'Cats are always half in and half out of hell,' he explains. Like it helps.)
Keanu's Constantine isn't really mean enough to be a hardboiled anti-hero, despite a bad nicotine habit and some gratuitous psychological violence to a spider. He's a softie underneath and we know it. But he looks cool in ex-promo director Francis Lawrence's narcissistic set-ups, and the actor's grim determination fits with this character.
Keanu has battled the forces of Darkness before of course, in Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey and in The Devil's Advocate. By now he's practically cornered the Everyman market. Even if this twenty-first century Pilgrim's Progress is definitely not a movie for spiritual contemplation, its metaphysics do make for some spectacularly warped SFX... a flick which imagines hell as a post-apocalyptic LA traffic jam is not taking itself too seriously.
By the way, if you don't want to miss anything, you'll have to sit through the end credits for the post-script.