Ghost Rider: Spirit of VengeanceReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 02/17/12 12:29:24
You know that you are in a rut when you are an Oscar-winning actor who, more or less through your own volition, has somehow found themselves in the middle of an ultra-cheesy 3D action thriller in which you play a character on the run from the Devil who finds himself charged with protecting a child before than can be sacrificed as part of a bizarre Satanic ritual designed to bring about the end of the world or Hell on Earth or some such nonsense. You know that you are in a real rut when this turns out to be no less than the second film that you have done along such lines within the space of one calendar year. You know that you are in a rut of Grand Canyon-sized proportions when said film doesn't even turn out to be the good one of the two. That, in an overdone and fairly tortured word or 150, is the problem that Nicolas Cage finds himself in with the release of "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance," a film that even collectors of the increasingly ludicrous projects that he has inexplicably yoked himself to in recent years will find difficult to bear. In other words, this is no "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans." It isn't even "Drive Angry." Hell, it is barely "Season of the Witch" or "Trespass," for God's sake. This is a movie made by morons for morons and the only thing it will leave viewers with is a desperate need for an aspirin to be utilized in a non-contraceptive capacity.The film is the follow up to "Ghost Rider," the big-screen adaptation of the second-tier Marvel comic series that I can almost guarantee that you have not given a single thought to since it hit theaters back in 2007. Once again, Cage plays Johnny Blaze, a stunt motorcyclist who, as the result of an exceptionally ill-advised deal with the devil, is cursed to occasionally transform into Ghost Rider, a flaming demon (or at least an improperly rendered CGI version of such) charged with sucking the souls of the damned or something along those lines. (A full recollection would require either a second viewing of the film or a second reading of my review and I fear I have the constitution for neither at this point.) As this film opens, Blaze is hiding out in Eastern Europe (largely because it is cheaper to shoot there than in the U.S.) when wine-chugging warrior monk Moreau (Idris Elba) arrives with a proposition. A little boy named Danny (Fergus Riordan) and his mother, Nadya (Violante Placido), are being chased by the minions of his long-absent father, Roarke (Ciaran Hinds), and they need Blaze's help and protection. Okay, there is a little more to it than that--Roarke is actually the Devil, Danny is the result of Nadya's own ill-considered bargain and Roarke needs to assume the boy's body in order to become more powerful than ever and such. In exchange, Moreau has the power to lift Blaze's curse and free him from his obligations to both Satan and a possible "Ghost Rider 3."
The result is the usual sludge that has come to define many action films of late, especially those inspired by lesser-known comic books---filled with inexplicable plotting, indifferent acting, incoherently staged action sequences, cartoonish special effects (which presumably look even duller and dumber in 3D than they did in the 2D version I caught) and a score that sounds like it was composed on a keyboard being attacked by several tone-deaf cats. Oddly enough, I actually had a couple of dim hopes for the film along the lines of a demented goof because it was directed by the duo of Neveldine/Taylor, the guys behind such lunacies as the "Crank" films and other, lesser endeavors. Granted, I haven't actually liked any of their films per se but if there was ever anyone in Hollywood even remotely qualified to make a film featuring Nicolas Cage as a Satanic biker with a flaming skull, I would certainly pick them for the job over the likes of Sam Mendes in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, instead of turning them loose with a bigger budget than usual and seeing what madness they might come up on their own, the producers have inexplicably yoked them to a PG-13 rating and a screenplay written by others so as to virtually ensure that the end result would be as formulaic as possible. Like their other endeavors, the film is a mess on every possible artistic level--one might complain about their apparent inability to hold a shot for more than 30 seconds until realizing that there is not a single shot in the film that any sane person might want to endure for more than 30 seconds--but unlike their earlier works, their sheer audaciousness (these are the guys who literally transformed a fistfight in "Crank 2" into a full-out Godzilla-style battle) has clearly been put on the back burner and the freak flag is flown only briefly and intermittently, most notably in a series of brief animated vignettes that appear to have been tossed in at random as a way of lowering the film's budget.
Then there is Nicolas Cage. . .oh boy, then there is Nicolas Cage. On the one hand, I cannot imagine another actor--or even many wrestlers--who would cheerfully agree to take part in a project as utterly ridiculous as this and I guess he deserves a little bit of credit for that. That said, he has gone to this particular well of wooziness so often in recent years that even he can barely manage to muster up the craziness that one might reasonably expect him to provide. Sure, it is an easy gig from a professional standpoint--for millions and millions of dollars, he gets to roll his eyes and chew the scenery in a few scenes and then hang out in his trailer during all the stuff featuring stunts or special effects--but if ever there was such a thing as low-key overacting, Cage achieves it here. It isn't even self-parody at this point as much as it is a parody of self-parody but whatever it is, it inspires maybe a couple of inadvertent laughs and a lot of stony silence. During the opening voiceover in which he tries to jog memories as to what happened in the previous films, he remarks "Good judgement was not really my forte" and not only is it the only bit of dialogue in the film to even vaguely ring true, it could potentially go down as the greatest self-epitaph delivered by an actor since W.C. Fields remarked "All in all, I'd rather be in Philadelphia."Before being dumped in theaters this weekend, "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" was briefly in the news because of its vague connection with a legal case between Gary Friedrich, one of the co-creators of the character of Ghost Rider back in the 1970's, and Marvel Comics. In a nutshell, Friedrich sued for his share of the rights to the character that had previously been denied him because of his onerous contract. Not only did he lose, Marvel then counter-sued him and not only successfully managed to ensure that he could no longer legally represent himself as the character's co-creator, they managed to win $17,000 in damages against him for selling his own artwork relating to the property at conventions and the like. As a result, some outraged comic-book fans have suggested boycotting this and other Marvel-related films in protest--a move that may work here but which will probably be forgotten by the time "The Avengers" comes along in May. Obviously, Friedrich got screwed by Marvel but if their is a bright side to this disgrace, it is that he can cheerfully point to this mess and happily proclaim that he has absolutely no connection to it whatsoever. At the same time, I have to admit that if a payment of $17,000 would ensure that I would not have to worry about the prospect of a third "Ghost Rider" in the future, I might seriously consider forking it over.
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