Francis Lawrence is a happy man.
The director won't deliver his big-screen adaptation of "Constantine" to theaters until next year, but he's already showing off 20 minutes of footage from the film the same way that a proud papa trots out baby photos.
"Constantine" marks the first film for Lawrence, best known as the man behind the videos for Justin Timberlake's "Rock Your Body," Avril Lavigne's "Sk8er Boi," Britney Spears' "I'm a Slave 4 U" and P.O.D.'s "Alive." The film is drawn from the heralded and relentlessly dark DC Comics/ Vertigo series "Hellblazer," which focuses on John Constantine, a supernatural detective who toils in a world where hell and earth mingle a bit too freely. In the film, Keanu Reeves steps into the role of Constantine, pairing with Rachel Weisz's skeptical police officer to walk among demons and angels while investigating a murder. Much creepiness and freakiness follows, if Lawrence's rough footage is any indication.
The director first rolled out his 20-minute teaser at Comic-Con earlier this year, and now he's presenting his footage to select press. There is still a lot of effect, sound and music work to be done on the film, but what has been put together so far suggests a dark, twisted and visually stunning film that stays true to the dark, gritty heart of its source material (though, as Lawrence notes, in his film "[Constantine's] not blond, not British, and it's not set in London anymore").
Lawrence has said that he didn't want to make a "typical comic-book movie," and he seems to be well on his way to achieving that goal. The footage suggests a far different path than that taken by "Spider-Man" or "X-Men," and the end result could well be the darkest comic adaptation this side of "Blade." Among the highlights so far, Keanu's Constantine presides over an especially noisy and gruesome exorcism that sees a partially headless demon expelled from a young girl. Later, Constantine goes toe-to-toe with a demon whose face is composed entirely of maggots. There are also headless soldier demons, melting faces and mysterious forces that manage to push people through walls.
The footage is also rich with the comic's trademark dark wit and angry edge. When a doctor warns Constantine that he may want to "make arrangements" given his poor health, he dryly replies, "I don't need to make arrangements, I've already seen where I'm going to go." Later, when a woman whose mental-patient sister has plunged to her death argues that it was murder — not suicide — that took her sister's life, Constantine retorts, "Right, because what kind of psychiatric patient would jump off a roof? That would be insane."
It's fairly dark stuff, and Lawrence hopes that the tone will come across as morsels of the film drip out during its marketing campaign. He is currently working on a three-minute trailer for the film, and priority number one is putting the dark feel of his film on display.
Until the film arrives next year, fans will have to content themselves with those offerings, as well as this exclusive production image, one of many used to help inspire the look and feel of "Constantine"
--Robert Mancini and Vanessa White Wolf- MTV.Com