Ghost Rider: 1 & ½ Stars (out of 5)
The thought that kept going through my mind during Ghost Rider was – huh?
The film is a schizophrenic mess which at times appears to be a legitimate Hollywood film and then seconds later makes you think you’re watching some apathetic junior high kid’s film project.
Without a coherent tone, the film flounders through lousy acting, crummy directing, and dreadful writing. Two of these three failures can be laid at the feet of writer/director Mark Steven Johnson (Daredevil, Simon Birch). I don’t want to say the writing was awful (too easy), so instead let’s just say Johnson’s writing style makes the dialogue of George Lucas sound like Shakespeare.
And his directorial decisions, from casting to final cut are simply dreadful. Add to that some of the worst acting by an ensemble since Ed Wood made his last film and you’ve got the making of one huge train wreck. But hey, at least the guy on the bike looks cool. That’s something, right?
Nicholas Cage stars as motorcycle stuntman Johny Blaze who as a young man made a deal with the devil (Peter Fonda) to save the life of his father (Brett Cullen). Of course the deal didn’t turn out exactly as planed and Johnny finds himself cursed as “devil’s bounty hunter,” known as the Ghost Rider. Well, not for twenty years or so where he gets to live out his life as a rich and famous stuntman, but you know after awhile that curse has to kick in, you know, sometime.
Then one night the devil returns to “cash in” on the deal and Mr. Blaze finds himself turning into the spirit of vengeance sent to capture and return souls who have escaped hell. On his list – Blackheart (Wes Bentley), the son of the devil, and his demon followers who are lamely based off of the elements earth, wind, and water.
Complicating matters for Johnny is the sudden return of the love of his life (Eva Mendes), the fact the the cops think he’s a serial killer, and then there’s the strange cemetery Caretaker (Sam Elliot) who seems to know more about Johnny and the curse than even Johnny does.
The film’s basic flaw, an odd one for a film with only one writer who is also the director, is it isn’t sure what it wants to be. Does it want to be campy with Johnny eating jelly beans and aw shucks-ing it with his former girlfriend? Or does it want to be a horror film with Ghost Rider taking venegeance on the damned?
One large mistake is to spend a large chunk of time exploring Blaze’s backstory, but very little on the backstory of the Ghost Rider, at least early in the film. By the time the plot gets around to it you probably won’t care anymore. This is a film where almost every good moment comes in a big action scene or effects shot devoid of any dialogue, and that’s good because the voice used for Ghost Rider sounds like someone whispering while choking on gravel. And who thought it was a good idea to cast Peter Fonda as the devil? Really? It’s a problem in a film like this if it’s impossible to take any of the villains seriously (and Wes Bentley’s one-note stoned performance doesn’t help either).
So what worked? The special effects, especially those of Ghost Rider himself were well done, not great, but pretty darn passable. The actions sequences were professional, and in some cases even fun. And then there’s Sam Elliot, who is just darn likeable as the Caretaker, it’s too bad his role is so small. And finally, kudos for discovering a young version of Eva Mendes in Raquel Alessi. In terms of matching up younger actors in flashbacks, it’s actually a pretty smart move – too bad there weren’t more of them.