Dir. by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor - 1 hr. 35 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
First off, if you're in any way annoyed/offended by Marvel Comics' treatment of Ghost Rider co-creator Gary Friedrich, feel free to direct your attention/dollars to this benefit t-shirt. I intend to, myself.
Onto the movie, which isn't very good. You could probably tell that from the trailer, but let me reinforce that point. There are concrete reasons for why this isn't a good movie, some of which are entirely unrelated to the source material. But, since I brought it up, let's address the source material. One thing has been proven in regards to comic book adaptations: if there isn't already a definitive story to refer to, Hollywood is largely unable to create one. It's the dividing line that ought to be used when determining whether or not to make a movie based on any given character. The biggies (and the most creatively successful franchises) like Batman, Spider-Man, or the X-Men all have numerous famous stories that you could pick up and use as the foundation for a movie. The unsuccessful ones (and I'm counting the ones that have multiple attempts), like the Incredible Hulk, Punisher, or Ghost Rider movies, for the most part don't have any stories that you'd hand to someone as an ideal representation of those characters. Good stories, sure, but Batman has at least half a dozen stories that you'd need to read before you had a good grasp of the character. Speaking as someone who's read more than a few Ghost Rider comics, the essential Ghost Rider story either doesn't yet exist, or there just isn't one.
And over these multiple attempts that just never click with characters like Ghost Rider, the vacuum that exists where a definitive story ought to live has never been filled in adequately by any Hollywood screenwriter. Ghost Rider, as a character, is pretty much a cool visual and spooky Devil nonsense. When you hand this half-formed mess to filmmakers like Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, whose resume includes directing the "Crank" films and "Gamer," as well as writing the hot garbage of "Jonah Hex," it's highly unlikely that they're going to build anything meaningful on such unstable ground. Yes, there's fire and explosions everywhere, but they also take Johnny Blaze from a teetotaler in the previous movie (remember his infamous martini glass of jelly beans) to an alcoholic pill-popper in an effort to lend some PG-13 grittiness to the proceedings.
I feel like I've adequately expressed why and how this movie isn't very good, and I don't think there's any reason to keep beating that dead horse. Instead, I'll take a gleeful turn, and let you know that pretty much every bit of joy that there is to be had in this film is due to Nicolas Cage's fantastic over-acting. Most people would be demoralized to have to produce such an awful film (and really, if there's anything about this film that I've overlooked that would suggest that the goal was anything other than producing a hot turd in a vain attempt to turn a quick buck, I beg you to let me know what it is), but it seems to energize Cage instead. I respect his commitment to go down enjoying himself, and I honestly wish that I was capable of mustering that much energy in a lost cause. There are a couple of line-readings that are absolutely fantastic when they have no business being anything more than drek (particularly his, "Yeah. Black, French, alcoholic priest, kind of a dick. Why, do you know him?" when asked about another character, which rivals some of Julianne Moore's best stylized dialogue deliveries in "The Big Lebowski"). If you're going to see this movie, Cage is the sole reason to do so.
There's not much reason to delve into the plot (typical "save the kid from the evil religious boogeyman" nonsense), or much of anything else. When things weren't getting shot or blown up, "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" was boring. Boring as Hell, you might even say. That was at least half of the film, and even at it's modest run time, there was still way too much of the trademark Neveldine/Taylor video-game inspired "reach the checkpoint" storytelling going on, and not nearly enough actual character development. I mean, if you're going to make a whole movie about a biker with a flaming head having to save some kid from the Devil, at least try to make me care about any of the characters. Start with one, and work from there. If a filmmaker can't manage that, at least blow some more shit up.
1.5 / 5 - Theatre