“Ghost Rider” may not be the worst big-screen adaptation of a comic book ever made but there is a good possibility that it may the silliest example of the genre ever produced–a perfect storm of a pap that brings together one of the most incoherent plots ever filmed, the cheapest-looking special effects that $120 million can buy and the supremely depressing sight of Nicolas Cage inexplicably embarrassing himself in the service of a screenplay that you would expect to find in Matt LeBlanc’s reject pile.Cage plays Johnny Blaze, a daredevil who unwisely sold his soul to Satan (Peter Fonda) in order to save the life of his cancer-ridden father. Years later, Satan returns and demands that Johnny live up to his end of the bargain by retrieving a long-missing contract containing 1000 extra-damned souls before it can fall into the hands of Beelzebub’s son, Blackheart (Wes Bentley), and allow him to attempt a hostile takeover on both Hell and Earth with a gang of like-minded demons so patently unfrightening that they make the dopes in “The Covenant” look like The Warriors by comparison. To do this, Johnny assumes the mantle of Ghost Rider, a flaming, chopper-riding cycle whose powers are vague and ill-defined and whose only weaknesses appear to be basic contract law and Roxanne Simpson (Eva Mendes), a chesty news reporter who never met a top button that she liked enough to fasten. (She and Johnny are an ideal match–he’s a stunt driver and she comes equipped with her own airbags.)
There is a possibility that this nonsense may play better with those familiar with the comic book (though the grumblings I heard after the screening may suggest otherwise) but newbies like myself are likely to find the goings-on so perplexing that it makes “Inland Empire” look like “Music and Lyrics” by comparison. In fact, I am prepared to offer one free ticket for “Ghost Rider 2" to the first person who can adequately summarize the story. (This is the kind of movie that drags a character in to explain what the hell is going on–in this case, grizzled caretaker Sam Elliott–and you wind up even more confused than before.) As he showed with his previous film, the risible “Daredevil,” writer-director Mark Steve Johnson has no discernible flair for superhero sagas–the tone switches from serious to campy throughout, the special effects are cruddy (Ghost Rider looks like the Lost Skeleton of Cadavra and that was supposed to look bad) and the Dixie Chicks documentary had better fight choreography than the nonsense seen here.If there is any relief to be had for anyone stuck watching “Ghost Rider,” it is in the fact that it is so ridiculously bad that it provides more inadvertent laughs than most recent comedies. Most of these laughs come from Cage, who seems to be staving off boredom by occasionally throwing in the kind of weirdo character touches and tics that he used to specialize in back in the days of “Raising Arizona” and “Vampire’s Kiss.” However, not even his supremely self-indulgent performance is able to save this sorry excuse for a film–he may be a walking Zippo lighter throughout but in the end, he just winds up making an ash out of himself.