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Original Sins
Hellblazer, Book 1
by Jamie Delano

. "Constantine"

However much you cloak Keanu Reeves in different character garb, even giving him the name of the first Christian emperor of Rome (324 CE), he seems to remain that persevering victim of forces beyond his control, Neo. Which is a statement about his limited range in acting, but I still go to his movies with interest because his presence and confidence brings a certain magnetism to the screen. He's a movie star.

Still in confession mode, I have to say that the title and the ad designs for this movie intrigue mightily with the aura of mystery and depth for a movie that is loosely based on the comic strip, "Hellblazer." Unfortunately, it doesn't take long to get over it.

We're in a showcase of biblical fiction here, with special, unexplained powers sprouting like spring rosebuds. After a Mexican laborer-scavenger uncovers an ancient sword ("The Spear of Destiny"), his possession of it awakens hellish hi-jinks.

The Devil sends out demons to throw things off balance for John Considine (Reeves) who seems to be the exorcist and emmisary of the good side who has the power to see the supernatural world and can contend with the monsters. What John is most upset about is that the demons seem to be trying to break through into the human dimension -- one that has been put strictly off limits by an ancient pact with the heavenly forces.

At the same time, John has problems of a more mundane and humanistic manner. A steady cigarette smoker (though not a chain smoker), he is dying of lung cancer. The worst of his soon-to-be-realized destiny is not leaving the mortal coil, but his damnation to Hell for having attempted suicide when he couldn't take what he was able to see on the spiritual plane. And, The Devil wants him bad.

So, on the remaining portion of his human journey, he doesn't hold back his desire to vanquish the threats to humanity and he consults with Gabriel (Tilda Swinton), wing-wielding demi-angel who can but doesn't help. ("It doesn't work that way," she tells him) Just what she does do remains a mystery other than to provide a wrinkle of attraction in the skein of other-worldly characters.

Speaking of attractions, you have the sex interest in Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz) whose psycho-ward-committed twin sister Isabel (Rachel Weisz) has jumped off the hospital roof. But this can't have been her sister's own act, and in her own inimitably gorgeous way (though poorly photographed in places), convinces John that another power has been at work.

Rounding out the hyper-dimensional cast of characters, John also consults nightclub manager Midnite (Djimon Hounsou) for a little of his particular legerdemain in that he holds the key to John's pursuit along the border line between the real and the biblically imagined. Midnite's thing, however, is that he's a neutral in the balance between the forces of good and evil, so it's a hard sell for John to get help from this hardnose.

All of which harks back to many another supernatural thriller tale that tries to turn holy water into paydirt. Such demonological fantasies as "Stigmata" of 1999 in which another Gabriel (Byrne) plays the Constantine part as Father Andrew Kiernan on a quest for the devil and his demons in the framework of iconic faith-based beliefs turn into little more than vehicles of creature horror.

I can't think of one of these biblical exploitation films that are any more successful than "Constantine" at pulling off a credible storyline. In director Francis Lawrence's effort here, per usual for the genre, the cast is tops, the action cleverly contrived, the effects and design state of the art, and the writing strictly bottom feeding with inconsistent contrivance the overriding principle. Other than for close-ups of the principals in raw, unmodeled light, the cinematography is supernaturally rich and stylish.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Site rating: 10

Rachel Weisz' performance was horrible. Good review, regardless.

                                                  ~~ Tony M.

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