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"Constantine" has the best Satan I've ever seen (in a movie).

Peter Stormare (also in "Fargo") brings true savoir faire to the role of Lucifer. Keanu Reeves plays the hero, John Constantine, and my initial reaction was that Reeves couldn't carry it off. I pictured Constantine as a hard-bitten dick like Sam Spade, and Reeves just doesn't have it. However, his attempt to be hard-bitten grew on me -- maybe Constantine is really a gentle, caring guy trying to play tough. I think it works.

The plot is taken from a comic book that I've never read. I think it's called "John Constantine: Hellblazer," or maybe just "Hellblazer." I don't care. Most movies based on comic books suck pretty bad, and I had low expectations of this film. But "Constantine" very much exceeded my expectations because of Stormare and Tilda Swinton - more on her later.

Okay, the plot. Angela Dodson (Rachel Weiss) is a Catholic woman whose sister appears to have committed suicide, a big no-no in the Catholic Church. This means the sister (Isabel, also played by Weiss) is refused a Catholic funeral and will burn in hell for all eternity. The name Angela is obvious, of course, but it turns out that Isabel means "God's promise." Constantine has a reputation as a sort of supernatural private eye, so naturally Angela seeks him out and puts him on the case - did Isabel fall or was she pushed? So Constantine and Angela pursue the case in this world and the next, learning there's a plot to let Satan and his minions overrun earth. Can they foil it? Of course.

Director Francis Lawrence keeps the film moving, lots of action and special effects (although I though his depiction of hell was mundane), unburdened by boy-girl sparks between our hero and his client (it is a comic book, after all). Two pieces of casting makes the movie rise above its comic book status: Stormare and Swinton.

Swinton plays Archangel Gabriel. I have no idea if the role was written with a man in mind, but if so, no concession was made for Swinton to play it. At one point she's seen in a mannish suit, and I don't recall references to Gabriel's gender (and I may well have forgotten -- what gender are angels, anyway?). She plays the role to the hilt. At one point, Constantine says with all sincerity, "Gabriel, you are insane." Best line in the movie, in part because it's totally true. Gabriel has definitely gone off the deep end, and Swinton plays Gabriel not as a thrashing lunatic but as an utterly sincere one.

Stormare plays Lucifer with all the panache of a mafiosos who's got a job condemning to hell everyone that he can, he's good at it, and he likes the job. Total confidence, total competence. There are a couple of special effects hinting at his satanic powers, but it's pretty much just Peter Stormare giving Satan character. I really liked his work.

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