Ghost Rider

Ghost Rider, which concerns a motorcycle stunt rider whose head turns into a flaming skull when night falls, is exactly the kind of movie that would’ve delighted me when I was twelve and watching it on cable. So I put myself in that mindset for two hours, and I report back as a mildly embarrassed 36-year-old whose younger counterpart enjoyed himself. There’s no use denying it: Ghost Rider is some bad fun if you’re in the right mood, and a large part of the credit goes to Nicolas Cage, who also has easy access to his inner delighted twelve-year-old.

The reason that Oscar winner Nicolas Cage is playing a cursed, leather-wearing biker with a flaming skull is that he thinks it’s way cool. A longtime fan of the Marvel comic books on which the film is based, he isn’t slumming at all; he never is, really. Cage throws himself into every film with equal passion and curiosity no matter how dumb or unworthy it is; he is perhaps the least ironic movie star since James Stewart, and he plays reckless stunt rider Johnny Blaze as a man haunted by his own youthful deal with the devil (an attempt to save his father from dying of cancer). Since this is Nicolas Cage, Johnny also has quirks like eating jelly beans out of a plastic cocktail cup and revving himself up pre-show by turning on the stereo and blasting…the Carpenters.

Soon, the devil (Peter Fonda, one of the original Easy Riders, in a witty casting coup) comes calling and turns Johnny into Ghost Rider, a sort of bounty hunter who can ride his flaming bike up and down skyscrapers. Ghost Rider’s mission is to defeat the devil’s son Blackheart (Wes Bentley) and his trio of demon minions whose powers are based on earth, wind and water (because Ghost Rider is fire — get it?). These minions are called Gressil, Wallow and Abigor, though I amused myself by renaming them Alvin, Simon and Theodore. In any event, Ghost Rider dispatches the elemental chipmunks pretty easily; he has a harder time working Roxanne (Eva Mendes), Johnny’s teenage flame (ha) turned TV reporter, into his busy schedule.

There’s not much going on with Eva Mendes (though she has a piquant moment when, stood up by Johnny yet again at a restaurant, she asks a gay waiter if she’s pretty), but Nicolas Cage approaches the romantic scenes as if Roxanne were Johnny’s most fearsome adversary, a woman who has his heart but keeps her own in a vault. Again, it’s all due to what Cage brings to the material; certainly the hack writer-director Mark Steven Johnson (who previously brought Marvel’s Daredevil to the screen) is lost in the scenes that don’t involve leather, chains, and fire. I don’t know if Johnson has much of a future as a filmmaker, but a bright career as a designer of bondage-themed nightclubs beckons if he wants it.

Sam Elliott is along for the ride, too, as a character named The Caretaker, who has all the answers, as Sam Elliott often does. His presence gives Ghost Rider the tone of a neo-western, peppered with equal amounts of ominous guitar twang and classic arena rock; the movie should go over well in the NASCAR states. Though I’d specifically requested no more wound-stitching scenes after Pan’s Labyrinth and Hannibal Rising, Columbia obviously didn’t get my sternly worded memo, since we’re treated to a scene of Sam Elliott stitching up Nicolas Cage after a particularly strenuous night on the town. Other than that, Ghost Rider is perfectly watchable and just as perfectly forgettable, ideal for the boob tube someday when you’re twelve.

Explore posts in the same categories: action/adventure, comic-book

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