Archive for the ‘Ghost Rider’ Category

307 – Ghost Rider

February 23, 2007

Ghost Rider is hilarious. Unspeakably, hysterically funny. Sadly, though, it’s all unintentional humor. The movie manages to pack in every comic book and action movie cliche imaginable, laughable casting, an illogical script, wooden acting, and jarring direction for straight-faced amusement.

Johnny Blaze is a seventeen-year-old tyro who works in a circus as part of a daredevil motorcycle act with his father. When he learns his dad’s got cancer, Johnny makes a literal deal with the Devil (played by a cardboard cutout of Peter Fonda) to save his dad’s life. That lasts about one day, because the next evening Johnny’s dad dies during a performance. “Nooooooooooooo!” shouts Johnny. “Nooooooooooooooooo!” Which is kind of what you’ll be yelling when you watch the movie.

Johnny has a girl, too, Roxanne. The night before the fateful performance, she tells him she’s moving away – her dad, skeptical about Johnny’s ability to stay alive in such a dangerous line of work, is sending her to live with her mother. Roxanne informs Johnny of this the very moment he’s done carving an elaborate “Johnny + Roxanne Forever” mark into a huge, old tree. Apparently she didn’t want to ruin his concentration before dropping the bombshell. The two decide to run away together anyway, but then Johnny’s pop dies, and Johnny runs off on his own to become the World’s Awesomest Motorcycle Dude.

Meanwhile! The nephilim, elemental angels in league with the Devil’s son, Blackheart, are trying to get a contract giving them control over the souls of some long-dead town. With these souls, Blackheart can rule the world, or something. (It’s unclear how all of the souls of one tiny town in the middle of nowhere would give anyone the power to rule anything bigger than a hamburger stand.) And, it seems, when Johnny made his deal with the Devil he became the Ghost Rider, the being responsible for transporting the contracts of souls to the Devil; Blackheart wants to intercept the contract so he can usurp power from his dad.

Fast forward one year later. Yes, one year. Johnny has changed from being 17 to being… Nicolas Cage. Cage is 43 years old. He is playing an 18 year old. This makes no sense. Oh, and of course he runs into old flame Roxanne, too, now played by Eva Mendes. Or, more accurately, played by Eva Mendes’ chest, which is prominently on display whenever possible. Mendes is 32 years old. She is, ostensibly, playing an 18 year old. Even more amusingly, Roxanne is now a television reporter. At 18, it’s more likely she’d be assistant gopher to the producer, but perhaps with her enlarged bosoms leading the way she was able to finagle an on-air position. Ever the professional, even when on the air Roxanne wears low-cut tops, the better to distract the viewer from her inane questions.

One gets the impression that Cage signed on to this role merely because he sports a Ghost Rider tattoo, which, ironically, had to be covered up for the movie. It’s kind of as if Jerry Seinfeld were tapped to play Superman. You get all of Cage’s mannerisms – the tics, the hangdog expression, the mouth-agape gaze, the laconic attitude. Not really what you expect from a comic-book hero. Mendes is fun to look at, but her delivery is paradoxically flat. She’s about as believable as Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist.

Rounding out the cast are a couple of old timers – Sam Elliot plays Caretaker, a wiley old coot as only Sam Elliot could play him. Elliot’s a fantastic actor, and he’s a much better fit for his role here than anyone else in this sludgy claptrap, but he can’t save the movie. Heck, he’s not even onscreen until around the halfway point of the movie. Peter Fonda, looking weathered and sort of beaten-down, is The Debbil His Own Damn Self (my words); he’s sort of aloof and unconvincing. Oh yeah, and Wes Bentley, who once was in American Beauty, is Blackheart, sans Joan Jett. Geez, they could have gotten any gothy-looking nitwit to play this role, it was so over-the-top. Bentley does not make a good villain.

Let’s be clear here. This isn’t supposed to be a funny movie. It’s a straightfaced, comic-book tale of a haunted young man. And yet the movie’s so ineptly presented, one can’t help but laugh. Questions abound: Why does Ghost Rider not even show up until a good way into the movie? Why are we told Johnny’s jumping 300 feet (a football field) when the distance is longer than that (360 feet)? Why, when Johnny asks the Devil if he’s the one responsible for keeping Johnny alive through all his death-defying feats, does the Devil say, “No, that was all you, Johnny”? (Was it? Cmon. If you’re the Devil and you NEED this guy to be your Ghost Rider dude, and your guy is in a line of work in which he’s constantly in harm’s way, wouldn’t you help him so he doesn’t, you know, die?) When Johnny stops his cycle on a busy freeway so he can chat with Roxanne, blocking traffic, how come no one drives around his bike and her van? There are two lanes. Why, if Blackheart is a supernatural (and presumably immortal) being, does Caretaker toss Johnny a kick-ass shotgun with which to attack Blackheart? Why is the church where Caretaker lives and works sacred, hallowed ground that Blackheart cannot trod upon, but other churches – including the one in the tiny, middle-of-nowhere village – are not? Why, when Ghost Rider races through the city one night, inadvertently causing destruction, does exactly one car flip up and smash into a window, despite there being dozens of other vehicles around it? How come Ghost Rider can be hurt if you stab him in the shoulder blade, but you can’t wound him by shooting him? (Some of these questions may have actual answers, but I didn’t get them from the movie.)

In a movie such as this, the big draw other than the comic-book angle, will be the special effects. Simple fact: They weren’t. It looks like the fx crew took an old skeleton, dipped it in kerosene, and lit on fire. Ghost Rider’s voice was created by some not-Nic-Cage dude speaking the lines and then filtering them through three sets of animal growls; it sounded like a seven-year-old using his My First Dictaphone. (I guess they wanted to avoid comparisons to a much-tougher character, Skeletor.)

So the movie’s pretty much useless, and in a week or so we’ll have forgotten it ever existed. It’s poorly acted, directed, and written and offers little in the way of solid entertainment – unless, of course, you’re looking for some unintentional laughs.

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