|Ghost Rider (2007)
Cage, Wes Bentley, Eva
Mendes, Sam Elliott, Peter Fonda, Donal Logue, Mathew
Wilkinson, Daniel Frederiksen
Director: Mark Steven Johnson
You really have to put movies like “Ghost Rider” in a different pack than the others. It’s so bad that it’s actually kind of awesome. Anyone who expects anything from a movie like “Ghost Rider,” comic fanboy or not, is just setting themselves up for trouble. However, if you go into it thinking, “This is going to be the worst movie ever made,” there’s a certain vindication in enjoying its spectacular badness that could possibly overcome you before all is said and done. Of course, you’ll still walk out of the theater thinking, “That was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen,” but you might be laughing while you say it, and that’s the key.
The story centers around Johnny Blaze, a stunt cyclist who does a carny act with his father. One day he discovers that his father’s dying of cancer, and later that day he receives a visit from Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda), who agrees to cure his father’s cancer in exchange for Johnny’s soul. .Johnny reluctantly agrees (more on that later), even though it also means walking away from his girlfriend Roxanne as well. Fast forward an undetermined amount of time, where Johnny (now played by Nicolas Cage) grows up to become a wildly popular, Evel Knievel-type daredevil, while Roxanne (Eva Mendes) is a TV reporter. Mephistopheles tells Johnny that he has to be the new Ghost Rider (read: bounty hunter), and track down an ancient contract containing the souls of a thousand of the most evil beings who ever walked the earth, before Blackheart (Wes Bentley), Mephistopheles’ son, can claim it in an attempt to usurp his father’s throne.
The movie begins like some ‘50s B-movie, with its ham-fisted romance dialogue (“My father doesn’t approve you. He thinks you’re just a phase.”), and ends like a modern-day cliché, filled with bullet-cam shots, hyperspeed cloud sequences, and other assorted nonsense. If the movie’s premise is to be believed, Johnny was suckered into signing the deal with the devil, since Mephistopheles pricked Johnny for blood when he wasn’t expecting it while examining the contract. Later, when someone asks Johnny why he signed the deal, I kept waiting for Johnny to say, “I didn’t sign it. I was conned!” Of course, he doesn’t say that, and that whole point is never addressed again. Sigh.
This might sound blasphemous, given the subject matter, but sweet Jesus, what has happened to Wes Bentley? He stole “American Beauty” from Kevin Spacey, Chris Cooper and Annette Bening, which is no mean feat. But here, he is toothless; the way they make his character scary is by having him slowly walk in the background for six steps and then – BOOM! – he appears in the forefront to offer a menacing demon grin in a quick cut. Cage, believe it or not, has overacted more than he does here, though the scene where he first becomes Ghost Rider is up there with his most over-the-top moments in “Snake Eyes,” and that’s saying something. Mendes is just meat in this movie, meaning she is either eye candy or bait. In fact, her character is such an afterthought that when Mendes first appears, director Mark Steven Johnson actually felt compelled to include a flashback to the younger Roxanne, as if Mendes could possibly be anyone else. As for Fonda, well, I can see why he’d be drawn to the premise, but he might be paying for this movie in his own afterlife, if you know what I mean.When I was walking out of “Ghost Rider,” I saw a person that appeared to be a fanboy, with long, dyed-red hair, approach one of my city’s more admired critics, and say, “It’s a Marvel movie so bad that even Stan Lee wouldn’t appear in it!” He got it half right: the movie is bad, no doubt about it. But with a little more work on the stale dialogue, “Ghost Rider” could have been good-bad, rather than just bad-bad.
Despite earning mixed reviews, “Ghost Rider” managed to score big at the box office, and so it’s not at all surprising that Sony has rewarded its legions of fans with a spiffy DVD release. Featuring nine minutes of never-before-seen footage and two audio commentaries (one with writer/director Mark Steven Johnson), the two-disc effort also includes an 82-minute making-of featurette not only comprised of the usual suspects (pre-production, stunts, SFX, etc.), but also delivers an in-depth look at the director’s involvement with the film’s many different departments. Rounding out the set is a short collection of animatics, as well as a 45-minute featurette that takes the viewer through the last four decades of Ghost Rider in the comics.