STARRING Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Djimon Hounsou, Tilda Swinton, Shia LaBeouf WRITTEN BY Kevin Brodbin and Frank Cappello DIRECTED BY Francis Lawrence
Adapted from the DC Comics Series Hellblazer, Constantine isn't your average effects-studded wish fulfillment. First, this soul-scarred hero has no mask. Second, he's got cancer, because he smokes. (You might too if you cast out demons for a living.) ''I didn't want to make a 'comic-book movie,' in terms of colors or tone,'' says Lawrence, a music-video director making his feature debut. ''Constantine is like Harrison Ford in Blade Runner a noir antihero.'' The film has Reeves and a detective (Weisz) investigating the mystery of her murdered twin, which leads them to L.A.'s supernatural underbelly and a big bad voodoo daddy named Papa Midnite (Hounsou). Originally slated for last fall, it was pushed to 2005 by Warner Bros. only to escape the glut of Halloween-timed horror, insists the director. LaBeouf who plays Constantine's wannabe apprentice praises Lawrence for his poise, Reeves for bringing his A game (''People don't understand how [intense] he is''), and the on-set exorcist who offered pointers on casting out demons. ''The Latin was rough,'' says the actor. And ''there's not a lot of places in L.A. where you can practice.'' (Feb. 18)
Son of the Mask
STARRING Jamie Kennedy, Alan Cumming, Bob Hoskins, Traylor Howard, Ben Stein WRITTEN BY Lance Khazei DIRECTED BY Lawrence Guterman
Ask the star of New Line's sequel to its 1994 smash The Mask if he was intimidated following Jim Carrey, and he responds with a routine that suggests he's been bracing for this question. ''Drew Carey is a big talent,'' he says. ''He's been overlooked for years.'' Ba-dum-bum. ''Seriously,'' Kennedy continues, ''the first Mask was great. Eric Stoltz and Cher were so good. . .'' But Kennedy was assuaged by the promise of a very different film, one tailored for families instead of teenagers and one that gave the Malibu's Most Wanted star a chance to play an adult for a change.
Here, he's an ambitious animator who, while under the magical mask's frisky influence, conceives with his wife (Howard) a kid who can literally bounce off the walls. Meanwhile, the family dog, jealous of the baby, digs up the mask, ''and a full-on Chuck Jones cartoon war erupts,'' says director Guterman (Cats & Dogs). The F/X-intensive, five-month shoot in Sydney was complicated, to say the least, but the star says wearing the mask itself wasn't difficult. Just freaky. ''Jay Leno's chin, Bob's Big Boy hair, Green Giant color, big horse teeth,'' says Kennedy. ''It's like The Hulk on weirdness.'' (Feb. 18)
Because of Winn-Dixie
STARRING Jeff Daniels, AnnaSophia Robb, Cicely Tyson, Dave Matthews WRITTEN BY Joan Singleton DIRECTED BY Wayne Wang
Director Wang is known for more grown-up fare such as The Center of the World and Anywhere but Here. So why did he decide to take on the film adaptation of Kate DiCamillo's award-winning children's book, which chronicles a preacher father (Daniels), his 10-year-old daughter (Robb), and her adopted mutt? ''Because everybody says don't work with kids and dogs,'' chuckles Wang, who filmed in rural Louisiana. ''Shooting the film was kind of like being on Louisiana quicksand you're never quite sure of your footing. This was AnnaSophia's first real movie, so that was sometimes challenging. And the dog was always challenging.''