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Cinematic Satan's sink in a surfeit of special effects

Constantine
Dir. Francis Lawrence; writ. Kevin Brodbin, Frank A. Cappello; feat. Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf, Djimon Hounsou, Max Baker, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Tilda Swinton, Peter Stormare (R)

The horror film has long been the last bastion of religion in mainstream cinema. Now, with Constantine and last year's supernatural Hellboy, we can add comic-book adaptation to the camp that's unafraid to discuss God, especially if the discussion allows some computer-generated demons to unleash a little hellfire on unsuspecting mortals.

Adapted from a long-running, critically acclaimed comic called Hellblazer, Constantine follows a title character who is one part Exorcist-era Max von Sydow, one part Philip Marlowe, and one part Dirty Harry - with a dash of rumpled Columbo thrown in. He wanders the world maintaining "the balance," an understanding between God and the Other Guy that, while they're competing for our souls, neither is allowed to interfere directly in mortal affairs. If you think this provides star Keanu Reeves a lot of opportunities to talk like a priest while kicking ass like Bruce Willis, you have learned lesson No. 1 of Hollywood screenwriting.

Fun enough for what it is, Constantine is a pale (albeit extravagantly decorated) shadow of its source material. The comic's hero is a Brit with a trenchant wit, a full-fledged character whose tangled adventures (and interconnectedness with the more interesting parts of the DC/Vertigo Comics universe) wouldn't make an easy transition to a newbie-friendly blockbuster.

Instead of depth and thematic richness, then, we get a surfeit of special effects applied to a damnably simple plot. Which wouldn't be so bad - it's fine accompaniment for munching popcorn - if only the filmmakers had trimmed two or three of the fatigue-inducing effects scenes. Still, the flick features one of the strangest cinematic Satans around (an icky Peter Stormare) and gives us a chance to see Reeves in a movie that owes almost as much to the Matrix as that film's sequels did, but sucks a whole lot less. John DeFore


Hitch
Dir. Andy Tennant; writ. Kevin Bisch; feat. Will Smith, Eva Mendes, Kevin James, Amber Valletta (PG-13)

Alex "Hitch" Hitchens, aka New York's "date doctor," assists hapless courtiers. He preaches self-confidence, and stands by his guarantee that in three dates a kiss will mark the beginning of something new and exciting. Dr. Love's most recent project is Albert (James), a bumbling, shy, but sweet accountant who wouldn't be able to recall his last date with the help of a calendar. Albert hires Hitch to help him woo the beautiful billionaire heiress Allegra Cole (Valletta); the duo have their work cut out for them. Messing with Hitch's mojo is gossip columnist Sara Melas (Mendes), who attempts to expose the true identity of the matchmaker.

Like a generous Alfie, slick Hitch uses most of his screentime either horsin' around with Fat Albert-like boys on the playground or courting Sara with overblown pick-up lines.

Director Andy Tennant has Hitch stalled somewhere between charming and insincere. It might be enjoyable in small doses but so is ether - before you pass out. Kiko Martinez


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