By Vic Holtreman
Short version: Unfortunately Ghost Rider lives up to its pre-release buzz: Boring and bordering on cheesy.
For those of you unfamiliar with the character, Ghost Rider is actually Johnny Blaze (seriously) who here is played by Nicolas Cage. I like watching Cage onscreen, although there's a "sameness" to his performances from film to film that's starting to wear a little thin on me. Nothing personal against the guy, but he has such a distinctively quirky delivery that it's starting to overshadow the characters he plays.
Ghost Rider opens with a narrative explaining how back in the 1800s the devil made a deal with a man to become his "Ghost Rider": essentially a bounty hunter for the devil, collecting souls that were destined to be damned. It turns out that there was a town of a thousand people who became corrupted by greed and turned incredibly evil. The Ghost Rider of the time went to collect and ended up with a contract worth all 1,000 of their souls.
Now for some reason these 1,000 souls would have made the devil incredibly powerful, giving him the ability to rule the earth or something like that. Why only 1,000 souls on a planet of billions or considering the number of souls the devil probably already had would make such a difference is beyond me. Anyway, this Ghost Rider, knowing what the consequences of handing over the contract would be, reneged on his agreement and "outran the devil." Neat trick, that.
So, cut to a much younger Johnny Blaze, who performs motorcycle stunts in travelling carnivals with his father. Johnny is in love with Roxanne, whom we know nothing about beyond the fact that she's really cute, loves Johnny, and her father is moving away with her to keep them apart because Johnny is not good enough for her. They resolve to run away together, but of course that doesn't happen.
It turns out that Johnny's father is extremely ill and that Mephistopheles (who was apparently the "devil" in the prologue and is played by Peter Fonda) comes around and offers Johnny a deal: He will cure his father in exchange for Johnny's soul. Sure enough, the next morning his dad is healthy as an ox, but knowing that pesky agent of Satan, the good news can't last long.
Johnny goes on to be an Evel Knievel-level motorcycle stunt riding superstar, who is obsessed with the darker side of religion and the occult. Just when he thinks he's going to get a chance to start over without the impending call of evil hanging over his head, the big M shows up to call Johnny's marker due. Of course as happens in this sort of movie, it seems there's a young'un (called Blackheart) wanting to take things over who thinks it's time for the "old man" to step aside. He wants the long-lost 1,000 soul contract and brings along demons representing earth, air and water. I guess "fire" is already taken by Ghost Rider.
Battles ensue, good triumphs over evil, yadda yadda yadda.
What's kind of cool: The initial transformation of Johnny Blaze into Ghost Rider, the chopper, watching him ride and tear up the surroundings. Sam Elliot puts in a brief appearance as a caretaker of the cemetery where the contract is located. Again, Elliot is another character I like, but it felt like he was channeling Kris Kristofferson from Blade here. Oh, and Eva Mendes playing the love interest is of course, very hot looking.
What's not cool: It shouldn't have been, but I found the movie incredibly boring. You know the feeling, you're sitting there watching the film and suddenly you become acutely aware of the passage of time. "How long has this been on so far?" "How much longer does it have to go?" "WHEN wil it be over?" I really hate when that happens. It also seemed like the director was really trying to go with an "old western" motif. There were shots that were obviously trying to emulate old westerns, like closeups of the eyes of the good guy and bad guys facing off and other little touches. Unfortunately, when combined with the music, it came across as cheesy and just about made me laugh.
And then there is the CGI. More than anything it reminded me of the terrible movie Van Helsing. The brief glimpses of Blackheart and Mephistopheles demon side looked like the ghost effect from the Disney ride "The Haunted Mansion." It just looked like a 2-D projection onto the actor's face. It was a definite PG-13 horror effect, not too scary as to not freak out the numerous 4 year olds in the audience (which it didn't) but then so "clean" looking as to just seem completely fake.
I didn't hate Ghost Rider, but I didn't like it either. More than anything I walked away with a feeling of indifference.