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Ghost Rider

Making a Comic Book movie can sometimes be problematic. Most times, you have an established character with an established fan base and what should be a fairly simple task. Just adapt the core work and build off of that foundation.

The biggest problem you face as a comic book filmmaker, though, is bringing said property to a broader audience who’s unfamiliar with the character, and the story and the history. So in a sense you’re faced with the biggest problem anyone has faced. Please all of the people, all of the time. And we all know how that works out.

Ghost Rider director Mark Steven Johnson faces big problems throughout his latest comic book outing, (Johnson also directed marginal comic hit Daredevil) and not even a hot chick and an Oscar™ winner can save him.

Ghost Rider is the story of Johnny Blaze (The astoundingly chiseled Nicolas Cage), the carnival stunt rider who sells his soul to the Devil (a poofy haired Peter Fonda) in order to save his cancer ridden, Marlboro smoking, stunt riding, father Barton Blaze (Played by a guy who was an Other on LOST). In typical “Deal with the Devil” type transactions, Johnny gets more than he bargained for as he finds out he’s become Satan’s Bounty Hunter, The Ghost Rider. Kinda like Dog Chapman might be the Lord’s bounty Hunter, but I digress.

Ghost Rider is called upon by Mr. Mephistopheles to stop his out of control son, Blackheart (Wes Study… Uh I mean, American Beauty’s Wes Bentley), from taking over the family business and essentially bringing on the End of Days. It seems old Blacky has teamed up with a trio of elementals, disguised as rejects from the Matrix Trilogy, to reclaim a powerful contract that will grant him enormous power, (Or in normally indie actor Bentley’s case, an enormous paycheck. ZING!).

All the while, our boy Johnny rekindles with an old flame (pun INTENDED) named Roxy played by the siempre muy caliente (the always very hot) Eva Mendes who conveniently plays a news reporter. Not only that, but Johnny is now a hot shot, Evel Kenievel level stunt rider with fame and fortune and an apparent death wish. Not to mention, a penchant for late night television, red and yellow jelly beans and an always faithful sidekick named Mac (Donal Logue from previous Marvel Movie, Blade). Man, this whole being possessed by a demon thing is complicated!!

It’s good thing our protagonist has a mentor. What? Ghost Rider has a mentor, get me Sean Connery. Oh wait, he’s a cowboy? Is Sam Elliot busy? Of course he isn’t…

Helping out Johnny is the wise and mysterious caretaker played by another marvel movie veteran, Sam Elliot (Hulk). Caretaker conveniently knows all about the Ghost Rider lore and on his first night out transforming into the rider, Johnny just happens to end up at Caretaker's graveyard. Man, that sure was lucky.

Filling Johnny in, as well as us audience members, Caretaker makes sure that everybody knows who the Ghost Rider is and what he can do. And Johnny pretty much accepts it wholeheartedly without any real concern. Because gosh darn it, he’s got a world to save.

And if you’re looking for anything more, then you’re going to be disappointed.

Ghost Rider crashes and burns on so many levels. First and foremost the script is terrible. The movie starts with a bad Sam Elliot narration and the first fifteen minutes of the movie is set back when Johnny and Roxy are teenage lovebirds. The teenage actors try, but the direction they’re given is so stiff that I really feel bad for the two kids. It’s a cheesy and lame attempt at creating a love story aspect of the story.

The movie barely begins to pick up when Nic Cage is finally introduced. Cage tries to bring a little personality and charisma to the movie, but unfortunately he’s surrounded by hacks.

Case in point, the direction by Mark Steven Johnson is, dare I say, haphazard here. Character development is settled for with obvious out of the ordinary traits that stand out more than actually develop.

Pacing is way too fast and almost careless. After Johnny Blaze’s first night of his horrific transformation, (his flesh burns right off of his bones), it doesn’t phase him at all, he’s okay with it, like nothing happened. There was no fear, no real horror.

The reason Blackheart wants the contract is the same reason the Devil wants it, so why doesn’t the devil get Ghost Rider to get the contract? No, he only wants Ghosty to stop Blackheart from getting it. It doesn’t make sense.

When Johnny Blaze is transforming into Ghost Rider, the movie quick cuts to puffs of flame on screen, in a poor man’s attempt at special effects. There’s also a marsh scene that is straight out of a Spinal Tap rock video. It’s terrible.

Johnson also spends a lot of time developing Johnny as a famous stunt rider and celebrity, but never takes the time to show the conflict of how having your soul being owned by the devil, and being forced to become the Spirit of Vengeance, will affect that already established life.

Let’s not forget the acting. Nic Cage is fun to watch in this movie. He tends to mug it up a lot, but he’s only doing it because the rest of his cast has no life. Eva Mendes, as hot as she is, delivers lines like she’s doing a table read for That’s So Raven. There’s absolutely no emotion behind any line she delivers and at times it’s painful to see her in the same scene with anybody. Donal Logue does alright as the loyal sidekick, but even then, his character is so one dimensional, you really forget about him once things get going.

And then there’s the Ghost Rider himself. Instead of making him a frightening force of friggin nature here, he’s a wise cracking (“You’re going down” and “Get over here”) skeleton caricature reject from Army of Darkness.

Then there’s the attempt at theme here and it’s so underdeveloped that it's really just insulting. The ideas that people deserve second chances and individuals can live with fear are two pretty powerful themes, if they can be conveyed in a convincing way. By having the characters point blankly ask them out loud to themselves and their friends, it's really just a half-hearted attempt at any real substance. At this point in the movie, all you're really asking for is the flaming skull head guy to kick some ass, not some small time attempt at undertone.

However there was some good in Ghost Rider. Pretty much any time the Rider is on the screen, it’s a real treat. The effects are fun and exciting, and well done. There’s a scene where Ghosty encounters a helicopter that’s true comic book goodness, and I loved it. When Ghost Rider tears down the street, flaming wheels and all, you finally feel like you’re getting to the meat of this movie. The look of the Rider is pulled off great, and with the right direction it could have been downright scary. Something I think the movie lacked: any real sense of fear.

But the best special effect of all was Eva Mendes’ gravity defying cleavage that somehow managed to be featured in every scene she was in.

If that isn’t enough to make you want to purge your sins, I don’t know what is.

Ghost Rider is a marginal film at best with a bad script and just plain bad direction. It attempts to have substance but just achieves corniness. Nic Cage tries his best to make it a movie worth watching but he just can’t overcome all the problems this movie has going against it.

The Ghost Rider gets lost here, and you kind of wish he would have just pulled over and asked for directions.


Lon Lopez

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