Monday, December 17, 2007

Ghost Rider

Based on a comic book series that I've never seen nor heard of, Ghost Rider (2007) is about a young man, Johnny Blaze, who sells his soul to the devil Mephistopheles in return for having his father cured of lung cancer. Both the boy and his father are motorcycle stunt riders, aka Evel Knievel. As soon as the father is cured, he is killed in a bike stunt—the accident is caused by the devil. The devil, played by Peter Fonda, agreed to cure the father of cancer but not to keep him alive. The boy grows up to be a famous stunt rider, played by Nicolas Cage. To avoid honoring the contract with Mephistopheles, who may appear to demand his soul at any time, Blaze executes daring stunts, each more dangerous than the previous one, hoping to be killed before the devil demands his soul. Later in the film we learn that the devil has been present at these stunts to ensure that Blaze survives. There is a rebellious faction of devils led by Blackheart, the son of the head devil. He's attempting to overthrow his father, so he's competing for Blaze's soul too. (For some reason, all of the devils in the film wear long Goth overcoats and heavy eye make-up—is this standard attire in Hell?).

The plot grows increasingly intricate as the movie sludges onward. For instance, the beautiful girl Roxanne Simpson (Eva Mendes) whom Blaze loved and left behind as a young man appears later in his life to interview him before one of his stunts, and the romance rekindles (no pun intended). There's little to be seen of the famous Cage persona here, but even that could not save this film. Cage is game enough, he occasionally seems to be channeling Elvis in a minor key, but you suspect that he's imagining the paycheck as he mugs his way through scene after scene. (You also think this about Peter Fonda, who may be pleased to be cast in any film). At a key point, when Mephistopheles appears to demand that Blaze find the lost contract, Blaze catches fire and becomes a skull-headed demon motorcyclist. Every time he is in the presence of evil, he catches fire—if and only if it is nighttime. During the day he is his normal self.

There are a few impressive effects in this film, and I enjoyed each time Cage burst into flame. I enjoyed watching him on his fiery motorcycle, especially when he rode it up and down the side of a skyscraper, and also when he rode it over the arch of a bridge. I even enjoyed watching him ride his fiery motorcycle through the desert alongside another ghost rider (Sam O'Neill) on his fiery horse. But these were brief, painfully fleeting moments. At its best, and especially at its worst, which means most of the film, Ghost Rider is simply an acted out parody of the comic book series which, if it is anything like the film, is flat and silly. Nicolas Cage was once a great actor, and may still be, but in Ghost Rider he seems to have flamed out.

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