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Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
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by Brett Gallman

"Hell no."
1 stars

If it’s February, it must be time for Nic Cage to don some leather and dish out some hellspawn, vehicular carnage. Five years ago, he hopped onto Johnny Blaze’s fiery cycle and limply brought “Ghost Rider” to life, while last year saw him feature in the underrated “Drive Angry,” where he doled out more hellish vengeance in a muscle car. Clearly, Cage has found a perfect niche here, so he’s saddled back up for “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” in what should have been an attempt to finally deliver a passable Ghost Rider film. I say this because Nic Cage’s fondness for the character is well known; however, you’d never guess that if you were to only consider “Spirit of Vengeance” as evidence.

Cage is once again Johnny Blaze, who is now hanging out in Eastern Europe (where the film is also shot, no doubt so it can stretch its apparently meager budget); he’s been the Ghost Rider his entire life, but he’s exiled himself in an attempt to control his demons. This doesn’t prevent a priest (Idris Elba) from enlisting his services in tracking down a young boy (Fergus Riordan) that’s also being pursued by a demonic cult.

The film then plays “fill in the blanks” for the next 70 minutes or so as it answers all of the questions plaguing the bewildered audience, who is left wondering just why we should care for this particular boy and his mother (Violante Placido). When it isn’t bludgeoning them tedious, poorly-staged action sequences, it’s just running down this checklist of exposition to shuttle them on to the next set-piece. The woman ends up being the devil’s “baby mama” (so termed by Cage himself) and obviously must be recovered, so Ghost Rider whips out his chains and sucks a bunch of souls.

And so the boy is temporarily safe until the script conjures up its own special brand of Plot Complication--he’s kidnapped again! More chains, more soul-sucking, and, by the end of it all, you feel like your soul is among the sucked. I like to think that you actually have to try to make a script that feels so lazy, so beholden is it to rote structure and predictable plot turns. It’s like everyone involved was reading from a template during its conception; for example, this is Comic Book Movie Part 2, so this is the one where the hero must lose his powers. So it goes, and we’re treated to exactly what everyone expects from a Ghost Rider movie: Nicholas Cage and Idris Elba crashing and shooting up a Satanic ritual (which I liked better when “Drive Angry” did it--sans Elba, of course).

But we only even get to that point because the script is so arbitrary with how it operates; characters only survive conflicts because the film needs to lumber on. This is most obvious towards the end, when the film’s sub-baddie (Johnny Whitworth) slaughters a bunch of people but doesn’t even bother with the principal leads, only because there'd be no final act without them. As I continued to nitpick the story, I wondered how it was all possible until the end credits revealed David Goyer’s presence, thus illuminating everything. This is not to absolve his fellow screenwriters (Scott Gimple and Seth Hoffman) of blame, but I think it’s becoming painfully obvious that Goyer’s work suffers when he’s not surrounded by guys named Proyas or Nolan.

However, if anyone could overcome a languid script, it’d be directors Neveldine and Taylor, whose “Crank” films are triumphs in nitrous and adrenaline fuelled delirium. With Cage in tow, their unique brand of manic action would seemingly have a pretty good shot at finding the fun in a story about a guy who reaps souls for hell. There’s even a moment early on where Cage’s histrionics look like they might at least push this into Crazy Cage territory; but alas, this effort mostly runs on fumes, as “Spirit of Vengeance” turns into a series of ironically dispirited chases and nigh-incoherently staged action that aren’t helped by direct-to-video style tics, poor effects shots, and blurry, unimpressive 3D.

Neveldine and Taylor don’t just fail to inject any fun into these proceedings--they manage to make Ghost Rider ponderously boring, which is the last thing I’d expect from these two. Even its non-sequiturs fall flat, including the absurd aside where Blaze explains what it’s like when Ghost Rider has to piss (it’s “like a flamethrower,” so I can only imagine he’s suffering from a urinary tract infection from hell). So we’re left with a flat, cheap, lifeless movie that sees just about everyone sleepwalking, including Ciarán Hinds (doing a bad “bad De Niro” impression) as the devil, who is sleepily assisted by Whitworth’s albino take on Blackout, whose superpowers enable him to disintegrate anything he touches (if only he could have got his hands on this film’s footage). Elba attempts to be as ridiculous as Cage (a fool’s errand, of course), and even Christopher Lambert drops in (as if this didn’t already feel direct-to-video enough) to liven things up to no avail.

Maybe the most absurd thing here is that we're somehow supposed to think Cage forms a bond with both the kid and his mom, despite the fact that they only spend a couple of scenes together. Usually, I'd wonder if there were some material left on the cutting room floor to round this out, but I don't like to imagine that more "Spirit of Vengeance" footage exists.

If nothing else “Spirit of Vengeance” manages to bump its predecessor up a notch on the totem pole of modern Marvel movies; whereas that one rested comfortably right near the bottom, it can now at least sit atop the streaming pile that is this film. Usually, a movie directed by the "Crank" guys starring Nicolas Cage as a guy with a flaming skull would recommend itself on some level. In this case, though, it’s not even damning with faint praise--it’s just damning.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=21666&reviewer=429
originally posted: 02/17/12 23:15:12
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User Comments

9/02/14 Dude yeah 1 stars
2/12/13 roscoe boring for the most part. The characters and the story sucked. First is better easily. 2 stars
8/29/12 matthew wood a rare case this is better than the 1st i love how every thing he rides turns to fire 5 stars
3/20/12 Luis Just a solid movie 3 stars
2/22/12 kaori pham was ok 3 stars
2/17/12 W I just saw a pre-screening of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Please don't was your mone 1 stars
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  17-Feb-2012 (PG-13)
  DVD: 12-Jun-2012


  DVD: 12-Jun-2012

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