Ghost Rider (United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

In the world of comic books, there are A-list titles and B-list titles. For the movie adaptations, it's easy to tell the two apart. The B-list films feature characters who are not universally recognizable, typically do not command huge budgets, and are released outside of the prime summer months of May through July. Ghost Rider is such a movie. Despite an incredibly silly premise, the comic was popular at one time, possibly because of the cool image presented by the title character. With its cheesy special effects and blasphemously imbecilic storyline, one wonders whether the celluloid version of Ghost Rider will find an audience.

Comic books and theology rarely mix and, when they do, it's usually not a comfortable mélange. This is the case with Ghost Rider, in which the unlikely scenario occurs whereby a servant of Satan becomes the apparent weapon of God. To further muddle things, the Devil isn't really that bad, at least when compared to his son, Blackheart. Most of the time, stories about characters who sell their souls to Mephistopheles have a moral. In this case, it's that God gives second chances to those who save the human race from supernatural annihilation. Daniel Webster he isn't.

As a young man, Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) makes a pact with the Devil (Peter Fonda). It's a simple deal: Johnny gives up his soul and Prince of Evil cures Johnny's father of cancer. Years later, Johnny is the world's top stuntman, a modern-day Evel Knievel - except he emerges alive and unscathed from even the most insane motorcycle jumps. He can't die - the Devil owns him. For decades, Mephistopheles leaves Johnny alone. But when Satan's son, Blackheart (Wes Bentley), decides to make Earth his dominion, Johnny becomes Ghost Rider - a leather clad biker with a flaming skull for a head. His duty: defeat Blackheart and his three minions, save Johnny's old flame, Roxanne (Eva Mendes), from the clutches of evil, and return balance to the world.

By now, anyone reading this has probably gotten the idea that Ghost Rider isn't in the same league as Spider-Man, The X-Men, Superman, or Batman (unless we're referring to the Man of Steel in Superman IV or the Caped Crusader in Batman and Robin). Maybe this "origin story" worked in the pages of the Ghost Rider comic book (I never was much of a fan, truth be told), but it's laughable on screen. Admittedly, one expects a certain level of preposterousness from a superhero story, but this film is far too silly to be taken seriously on any level. And the pedestrian predictability of the action sequences isn't a saving factor. Watch as Ghost Rider battles the minions one-by-one before facing off against Blackheart at the climax.

Nicolas Cage plays Johnny with an off-kilter intensity that makes for a strangely sympathetic portrayal. Eva Mendes is effective in the girlfriend role, although it doesn't take much to satisfy the requirements: act amazed when confronted with the truth, get captured and need rescuing, and have a sexy/macho shot that will cause heart palpitations for teenage male viewers. These two don't have the chemistry of a Peter Parker and Mary Jane or a Lois and Clark, but they'll do in a pinch. Meanwhile, Peter Fonda wears makeup that causes him to look embalmed while providing a voice that sounds like a bad Clint Eastwood impersonation. And Sam Elliott has a small part that would take about five paragraphs to explain. His most notable contribution is that he has the perfect voice for the voiceover narration.

This is director Mark Steven Johnson's second foray into the realm of Marvel B-list heroes. He previously directed Ben Affleck in 2003's Daredevil, another February release. The earlier movie had fewer special effects, which is probably a good thing since what's on display in Ghost Rider isn't impressive. With new Spider-Man and Fantastic Four movies just around the corner, superhero fans don't have to rely on this feature for their fix. That's fortunate because Ghost Rider is an unholy mess.

Ghost Rider (United States, 2007)

Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Peter Fonda, Wes Bentley, Donal Logue, Sam Elliott
Screenplay: Mark Steven Johnson
Cinematography: Russell Boyd, John Wheeler
Music: Christopher Young
U.S. Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Run Time: 1:45
U.S. Release Date: 2007-02-16
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1