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Ghost Rider

Another C-List Marvel Superhero Gets the Big Budget Treatment

If you squint hard enough at Marvel Comics' annual group photo of its superheroes, you’ll probably come across "Ghost Rider" somewhere near the back of the room. Ghost Rider's flaming skull and motorcycle jacket should make him easy to spot, but the lack of an ongoing monthly since 1998 automatically makes the character a hard sell for non-comic book fans unfamiliar with the character.

Marvel and Sony Pictures have teamed up for a big-budget, feature-length adaptation of the Marvel character written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson (Daredevil), hoping to duplicate the success Marvel had with another C-lister, Blade, which turned into a lucrative franchise/trilogy and, if only briefly, a hot comic book property.

Years ago, Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage), a stunt motorcyclist, made a Faustian bargain with Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda), exchanging his soul for his father’s life. Mephistopheles lets Blaze get on with his life, promising to return one day when Mephistopheles will need his services. Johnny is about to undertake the most dangerous jump of his career when Roxanne (Eva Mendes), his first love turned television journalist, shows up. Romance rekindled, Mephistopheles also reappears and forces Johnny to become the “Ghost Rider”, a demonic bounty hunter with a flaming skull and supernaturally powered motorcycle. Ghost Rider’s first target, Blackheart (Wes Bentley), has escaped from Hell to wreak havoc on the surface world.

Ghost Rider’s dramatic conflict centers on whether Johnny Blaze can redeem himself (not that he needs much redeeming), win back Roxanne’s love, defeat Blackheart, and undo the Ghost Rider curse. To call Blaze “tortured” is being generous to a one-dimensional character (wearing Elvis shades, eating jelly beans, and listening to the Carpenters are cheap, add-on character quirks).

Not surprisingly, Ghost Rider is a good fit for Nicholas Cage in goof mode. Cage once again channels his inner Elvis impersonator (as he has on multiple occasions). Donal Logue is on hand to provide comic relief/sidekick, but he’s barely in the movie to make much of a difference. As the obligatory romantic interest, Eva Mendes gives an unenthusiastic, bland performance. Peter Fonda shows up a handful of scenes as Mephistopheles, but more likely than not, he wasn’t chosen for his acting chops. Instead, Fonda’s presence in the cast is meant to evoke Easy Rider.

If the truism about a film being only as good as its villain has any merit, then one of Ghost Rider’s more significant problems can be traced to Wes Bentley’s weak, colorless villain, the power-hungry Blackheart. Bentley justly received accolades six years for his understated performance in American Beauty, but hasn’t done much since. Here, he gives a flat, unengaging performance. Then again, he doesn’t have much to do. In obvious need of a paycheck, Sam Elliot steps in as the mandatory seen-it-all mentor/redundant narrator modeled on Kris Kristofferson’s character from the Blade trilogy.

Ultimately there aren’t too many reasons for recommending Ghost Rider to potential moviegoers. If you do, you’re either a longtime fan of the comic book or you can’t get enough of seeing Nicholas Cage do his Elvis thing on the big screen (or both). Either way, the movie doesn't deliver much in the way of thrills or chills (the "PG-13" rating doesn't help). Sure, the stunts, set pieces, and computer animation show off the best effects that a $100 million dollar budget can buy these days, but they’re also directed with a minimum of imagination or originality.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars


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