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How bad does a movie have to be for you to walk out of the theatre? No, really. I'm asking. I've never found a movie I couldn't stomach, which explains a lot about Head Injury Theater, when you think about it. But when a bunch of us went to see Ghost Rider last March half of my group left after only watching 30 minutes of the film. These aren't film snobs, either. These are friends who've sat through things like "Zombie Gangbang" (not porn), "Demon Cop", "Frankenfish", and even "Lord of the Cockrings" (more or less porn). They don't have high standards. They wouldn't be my friends if they did. So what made them cut their losses and flee the cineplex? They put forth a few theories and instead of my recounting their trauma, I'm just going to present yet another movie based on a comic book you probably never read. Considering what you'll find in my archives, it's almost a tradition. You know, because comic book movies just inherently want to suck. Sure, a number of them overcome their handicap and those are the ones we hear about (Tim Burton's Batman, Raimi's Spiderman, Sin City, Ghost World, etc) but for each one we hear about there are dozens that just suck my butt in the most negative way possible. (As opposed to, well, let's not go there.)
Before we get into the actual film, let's establish something. (And no, Mr. Cage is not doing an Elvis impersonation in the picture to the right. At least, I don't think so.) This film stars Nicolas Cage. This was a project that Mr. Cage must have had a chubby for from the moment he was cast. I don't usually like to theorize about the state of arousal a celebrity is in, but if you know anything about Nick it's pretty much a given. Nicolas Cage is a HUGE comic book geek. He thinks comic books are today's myth and folklore. Ok, that's not too bad. He has at least one comic book character tattooed onto his body. That's going into a weird territory, but I'll accept that within the realm of baseline reality. He named his son Kal-El. :blink blink: That's the "made-up alien name" of Superman. He named his kid after Superman. He named his freaking KID after Superman. That's going to be one pissed-off teenager. So yeah. Nicolas Cage is a comic book super-freak; the kind you don't take home to mother. He was originally supposed to play Superman back in the 1990's...but the project got super-delayed...and Nicolas Cage got too old. (I don't mean to pick on him too much, but the fun fact is that it took the make-up crew 3 hours to cover up his bald spot during the shooting of Ghost Rider). Then he was supposed to play the bad guy in the more recent Spiderman flick. There have been a few other comic book movies that he's missed, but finally, after over a decade of earning a name for himself and working hard, he got his wish. Congratulations, Nicolas. I hope it was worth it.
Now don't let me convince you that comic books are a flaw in Nicolas Cage's belief system. If you never read the original Ghost Rider comics, don't be ashamed. Here's a quick look at the original Ghost Rider.
And there you have it. The premise of the Ghost Rider is that he's a demonic spirit of vengeance that doles out harsh justice while wearing a flaming skull and more leather & spikes than your average biker fetishist. He's got a motorcycle that has fire for wheels and he brutalizes evil with a length of chain. If a sinner looks into his eyes, their head explodes (more or less, depending on which comic you accept as canon). He gets his power from THE DEVIL, also known as Mephisto. He ends up being some sort of demonic anti-hero...which is the very best kind, apparently.
Well, that's a lot of geeky fun facts. What does it add up to?
The Ghost Rider is simply so freaking hardcore in live-action form. Well, maybe that's an exaggeration, but the best part of this film is how freaking cool they made the G-man look. And to my friends' detriment, they all left BEFORE they got to see the Ghost Rider. Most movies would be better if they featured a flaming human skeleton in leather.
It is, sadly, the only really good thing about the movie and is made all the more sad when you see how much everything else in the movie blows donkey. (The animal, not Eddie Murphy's character from Shrek, you pervert.) Let me put it like this: You go to a five-star restaurant. The appetizer is the very best damn thing you've ever eaten. When the main course arrives, you realize that everything else on the menu is manure. Literally. So while no one can say the jalapeno poppers were anything but amazing, that's about all anyone can say that's positive. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
You didn't think they'd forget the flaming bike did you? This too is pretty cool...though comic book movie fans will obviously be reminded of the OTHER terrible film, Spawn. Both feature demonic anti-heroes that have the power to transform bikes into flaming H.R. Giger sculptures. I'm sure it's just a coincidence. Of course I'm lying, but my pointing out that comic books like to re-use the same damn plot device happens further down the page.
The only thing that ISN'T cool about the Ghost Rider character is his voice. They went to a lot of trouble synthesizing animal noises through an electric guitar to pull off the perfect "unholy" sound they were after. The problem?
The Ghost Rider squeals like a pig. Seriously, whenever the Ghost Rider is on stage it's hard not to notice that he's grunting like some sort of animal in heat. It's hilarious. They also seriously changed what the Ghost Rider's dialogue was like when they made the movie. I only bring it up because it's like having the Live-Action version of Batman only speak, I don't know, Chinese. The comic book character talks like some sort of crazy fire & brimstone preacher, like so:
And in the movie? The longest line he has is "You're going down" or maybe "You're pissing me off!" Man, this makes me want to talk about the dialogue of the film but really, I should be walking you boys and girls through the actual plot. You'll understand why this film fills my urethra with flame soon enough.
The Plot: It burns us!
I'll try to do this fairly. The film starts with young Johnny Blaze as a filthy carnie who's in love with the a local cutie. They're in love and are planning on eloping. They even have their own "young love" theme song. Of course, this is the very beginning of the film, so you know it won't work out. And there's no Nicolas Cage in sight. This is where we find out that Johnny's father (who's also a filthy carnie) has lung cancer. And that's when Peter Fonda shows up to make a deal.
Ok, he's actually the Devil played by Peter Fonda, but you get what I mean. The Devil gets Johnny Blaze to sign a contract in blood...his soul for his father's health. Deals with the Devil rarely work out very well, so of course the Devil arranges his father to meet a horrible accident the very next day. Always read the fine print on those contracts, you wacky infernalists. So Peter Fonda now owns Johnny's soul and has plans for him. And thus we flash forward to the present day.
Johnny Blaze is now a world-famous middle-aged motorcycle stunt man, who cheats death for a living. Of course we later find out the only reason he's been successful in this career is because the Devil was keeping him alive, but whatever. There's a REASON people sell their souls to the Devil, right? Johnny Blaze is an eccentric celebrity type obsessed with jellybeans, the Carpenters (what your parents listened to when they were your age and quite lame), and, well...I'm not sure. The character is really just a big walking styrofoam peanut. It takes up space and helps pad the rest of the film so the cool part gets to us safely. So what was that bit about jelly beans?
You're watching Johnny Blaze eat jellybeans out of a martini glass. It's a repeating occurrence and is even implied to be important by one of the supporting cast. While I usually wouldn't include this weird bit of strange, check out what the director says about the "symbolism of the jelly beans":
"Nicolas Cage wanted to play Johnny Blaze as someone who didn't steer away from the righteous path to prevent the Devil from calling him into his service. Since he didn't drink alcohol, Johnny chose jellybeans as his vice."
What? You're serious? You couldn't come up with ANYTHING cooler than "he eats jelly beans to resist temptation?" I don't want to believe that's true. Let's move on, because if AA starts doing "jellybean therapy" I think my head is going to cave in.
So what happened to that girl he was going to elope with but didn't because the Devil scared him out of town?
She became Eva Mendes who plays Roxanne Simpson, a rather successful news reporter. She's also the main reason most of my friends say they left the theater. Eva's acting style is...how can I put this? The best definition I heard was "her acting reminds me of my junior high drama class." That might not be clear enough. To be fair, I don't usually judge someone by their acting. I'm not an actor and, generally, I try to just accept the tone and actions of a character. It's when a character switches emotional cues 8 times in one sentence that I want to throw something at someone's pretty face. Put it like this, here's a moment for you. She's interviewing Johnny Blaze (Mr. Cage) and hasn't seen him in twenty years. In the course of 10 seconds we see "I want to be a professional reporter" to "I'm a quirky woman who thinks of you every night" to "I hate you" to a couple other emotions that I just couldn't figure out. If she's supposed to be a professional TV reporter, she's the WORST reporter in the history of television. Then again, maybe the director wanted to imply that she slept with her bosses so that she got the job. That I might believe...because....gah. Since only the most base of critics will criticize an actor by their appearance, let's get that out of the way so you know that I'm that kind of jerk.
What happens when you inject too much Collagen into your lips?
You get an actress like Eva Mendes who has a hell of time closing her mouth. I re-watched this film paying attention to her surgically-plumped lips and I swear you can count how many times her mouth closes on your fingers. Maybe this is what the director wanted?
Director Retard: "I like what you're doing with the character, Eva....but could you do a bit more with the mouthbreathing bit? This character is supposed to be a mouth breather. If you close your mouth it undermines the character development we've worked to establish."
The bad guy of Ghost Rider is a character known as "Blackheart". You know, because if you're evil you're required by union rules to have a descriptive name. My Union of Evil name is "DarkScrotum" in case you were curious. Anyway, Blackheart is the Devil's son who has come to Earth from Hell to retrieve a special contract. This contract was mentioned in the film's prologue but honestly, you didn't miss anything by my not mentioning it earlier. This contract is for the souls of everyone in the western town of "San Venganza." Apparently, the people in this town were the most EVIL people ever born, because if the devil gets their souls in Hell, he'll become super-powerful. Or something. Blackheart's after the contract because if he gets it, he'll be able to take over hell. He also has 3 nephilim assistants who really are only in the film to add to the special effects budget. Apparently, these spirits "hide in the elements" so he's got one made out of dirt, the other water, and a kind of scary one made of air. They die super easily and don't do anything besides run over the Ghost Rider with a truck thanks to the water-elemental creating a magic puddle. Seriously, there's a magic puddle in the movie. Filled with demon. If I could stab that memory out of my brain, I totally would.
Anyway, Blackheart is pretty much the super-powerful spastic teenager who can kill people by touching them. Every line he speaks is a freaking cliché, but you can't hold that against him. MOST of the dialogue from this movie hurts. All you need to know is that the Devil has "activated" the Ghost Rider to kill Blackheart and "maybe" get back the contract of San Venganza. (By the way, San Venganza translates to "Saint Revenge" which is super retarded when you have a movie featuring the spirit of vengeance as your hero. Oh wait. It's not retarded, it's "symbolic." Gah.)
It's transformation time.
What starts off as Nicolas Cage doing his best impression of Bruce Campbell, quickly leads into the actor apparently being set on fire. I have no special hatred of Mr. Cage, so in many ways I wish I could have seen someone else cast in this role. You know, so you could see them tolerate being burned alive. For kicks.
Finally. It's the Ghost Rider. Now if only we could get him to stop grunting. Plus, it's a shame I had to tolerate 40 minutes of crap just to get to see something cool.
Before we get too far ahead, don't forget the scene where the Ghost Rider turns into the Ghost Jet Ski Rider. Yep. The Ghost Rider turns his bike into a jet ski, flips off the police who were chasing him, and rides off into the night. Speaking of police, there's a particularly amazing plot point where Johnny Blaze gets arrested for these weird supernatural murders that Blackheart has been doing. Why do they think it's him? Because the murders started about the time that he came to town. Talk about phenomenal police work. Do they often solve mysterious cases by arresting and charging someone who's only crime was coming to town? Maybe I just don't know enough about police investigations. Stupid shows like C.S.I. have that whole "evidence" fiction going on. In reality, this is just so the character has a "reason" to run away from the police. Since none of the demonic enemies in this film have any means of transportation, they needed to justify some sort of chase scene. I don't blame them...otherwise the cool bike is pretty pointless.
You might not be able to tell from the picture, but that's the Ghost Rider screaming "yee haw!" as he tries to lasso a helicopter. I guess he really is a cowboy. Speaking of cowboys, it's time to see why this film really reminded me of Spawn.
Say hi to "Carter Slade" who was the last Ghost Rider to serve the Devil. He's since broken free from his control and helps Nicolas Cage take control of his new infernal life as the Ghost Rider. Sound familiar? If you've seen Spawn then you know THAT comic book movie about a cursed demonic super hero who attacked people with chains also featured the last "Spawn" to serve the Devil...that had broken free from the Devil's control and helps the new Spawn come to grips with his new infernal condition. Jesus, that's a weird coincidence. The whole "elder Ghost Rider" bit (which is sort-of from the comics) does allow for the most pointless scene in a movie FILLED with pointless scenes.
Ok. So we get to see the Ghost Rider of the Old West. That's kind of cool. I guess.
...And we get to see a scene where they both ride out into the desert, united to fight Blackheart together. So why was this scene pointless?
Because it existed only
to show two ghost riders riding next to each other. When the two get
to their destination, Old Man Ghost Rider turns around and wishes New Kid
Ghost Rider luck. We find out that Mr. Slade (the old one) only had
the power for one more transformation and now he's going off to die in the
desert. Considering how the Ghost Rider already knew where to go, we
get to see a man use the last of his life energy to....offer moral
support? Point is, the scene goes on forever and exists only to show
people how good the special effects are. It's a music video where we
hear a lot of the old song "Ghost Riders in the Sky" (made famous by
Johnny Cash). Lots of style and no substance. I don't need
deep meaning behind my comic book movies, but when you make no sense just
to look pretty....
The film ends with Blackheart getting the contract, Nicolas Cage making a magic shotgun, and good eventually winning out over evil. Of course, by winning, the hero sends all the souls of San Venganza to hell, which is sort-of what he wasn't supposed to do. So by killing Blackheart he did exactly what the Old Ghost Rider died trying to prevent. It's kind of weird, because they totally forget about the main plot device during the final act. The Devil shows up though and offers to remove the curse so that the hero can live a normal life. Cage (I mean Johnny Blaze) swears to use the curse for good instead of evil and goes out on the road to protect the innocent. The hero DOESN'T get the girl in the end, which is a nice twist but still illuminates the fact that Eva Mendes wasn't playing a real character so much as a movie prop with breasts and collagen.
There's one final thing I haven't mentioned about this movie. You know how occasionally in a flick like this someone says something that sounds like they read it out of a fortune cookie? There are entire scenes where characters just talk out of their ass the way only drunken folks with spirituality on their minds would. Here's an actual conversation:
Johnny Blaze: "He may have my soul, but he'll never take my spirit."
Carter Slade: "Man who'd sell his soul for love has the power to change the world."
That's an actual conversation from the movie.
And it's like that a LOT in Ghost Rider. The film starts with "There's an old saying..." and ends with "It's often been said...". Nicolas Cage starts conversations with lines like "My father used to say that if you don't make a choice the choice makes you." If you think you can tolerate pieces of Zen like that, by all means enjoy Ghost Rider.
Instead of my summarizing my hatred or trying to make sense of all this crap, let me communicate through one of the old Ghost Rider comic books.
If I knew where Nicolas Cage lived, I'd send him a copy. It would be....appropriate somehow.
Copyright 2007 Jared von Hindman or maybe just Jared Hindman. It depends. Any images used that are not Jared's are used via Fair Use review purposes and belong to their respective owners....who are nice people that don't want to sue me.
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