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  Ghost Rider yippee-ay-yay!
Year: 2007
Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Peter Fonda, Wes Bentley, Sam Elliott, Matt Long, Donal Logue, Brett Cullen
Genre: Action, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 4 votes)
Review: Teenage stunt cyclist, Johnny Blaze (Matt Long) sells his soul to Satan (Peter Fonda) to save his father from terminal cancer. Old Beelzebub promptly cures his ailment then smites daddy with a blazing fireball and drives Johnny away from his true love, Roxy. Fast forward several years, the now grownup Johnny (Nicolas Cage) is an Evel Knievel-style daredevil, hugely successful, but lovelorn and haunted. When Roxy (Eva Mendes) reappears in the guise of an ambitious news reporter, Johnny’s attempts to rekindle their romance are scuppered when Satan transforms him into his personal bounty hunter: the leather-clad biker with the blazing skull - Ghost Rider. Sent to stop the devil’s rebellious son, Blackheart (Wes Bentley) from finding a legendary contract of damned souls that will enable him to conquer the world, Johnny befriends a mysterious gravedigger (Sam Elliott) who may hold the key to his salvation.

Marvel Comics’ Ghost Rider has been around since the 1950s, when he was a phantom gunslinger in the wild west, but it’s the 1970s biker-zombie version most people are familiar with. Nonetheless, he is pretty obscure character, unfamiliar to anyone who isn’t a dedicated comic book buff. It’s unlikely this big-budget adaptation would have been made if film companies hadn’t already exhausted Marvel’s roster of heavy hitters, and if Nicolas Cage - bless him - weren’t such a comic book junkie (He took his screen name from the equally obscure Marvel hero, Luke Cage). For his second superhero movie, director Mark Steven Johnson tries to please the fans by incorporating elements from Ghost Rider’s various incarnations. A western prologue tips a hat to his roots, the origin tale comes straight from the seventies, while the Rider’s “Penance Stare” was first introduced in the 1990s comics.

A weak story and slipshod direction mean this never scales the heights of Spider-Man (2002) or even Johnson’s underrated Daredevil (2003), but the film features elements that are quite entertaining, mostly due to Nicolas Cage. Some thought Cage was too old for the role, but his weathered features are more suited to a hardened stuntman than the bland pretty-boys Hollywood usually casts. Cage adds idiosyncratic charm, including his usual Elvis mannerisms, with Johnny addicted to The Carpenters, cartoons and weird TV (“Touch the Carpenters or that chimp video and we’re gonna have a fight!”) and scoffing jellybeans from a champagne glass. In fact, Johnny Blaze is such an amiable, good ol’ boy (responding to his arrest: “You’re both good cops. After my stunt career is over, I’d like to join the motorcycle cops”), it’s unfortunate Cage disappears for long stretches, replaced by a wisecracking CG creation.

The love story carries some comic book charm during the early stages centred around young Johnny and Roxy, but sadly Eva Mendes adds very little aside from a cute gag involving a magic eight-ball and some shotgun action during the climax. Peter Fonda exudes not an ounce of menace, while Wes Bentley and his band of preening Goths aren’t up to much either. Theologically minded viewers might well ask: how can the devil’s son set foot in a church? Elsewhere, Sam Elliott serves as Mr. Exposition, only around whenever Johnny asks “What’s going on?”

Ghost Rider’s gravity-defying motorcycle stunts are CG assisted of course (how else could his bike scale a skyscraper?), yet the most engaging scene is where Johnny races alongside Roxy’s news van, trying to chat her up. Most of his battles with shape-shifting, supernatural poseurs are so-so, but the film comes alive for the moody, gothic/spaghetti western finale. Featuring a splendid fog enshrouded graveyard set overrun with CG ghouls, it briefly captures Johnson’s stated intent to fuse Sergio Leone with Hammer Horror. There’s a brief, Beauty & the Beast moment when Ghost Rider recoils from Roxy’s touch and Cage’s closing speech has a touch of poetry missing from the bulk of the movie. The soundtrack is the usual Marvel hard rock mishmash, but kudos to Spiderbait for their catchy cover of “Ghost Riders in the Sky”.
Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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