Here is a challenge for you, take a popular yet somewhat obscure comic book franchise and make a movie about it. Now, by obscure I do not mean Superman, Batman or Spiderman, those have already been done and are far from obscure. Now once you have this story in your midst, your goal will be to make a movie that is campy, unnecessarily clich© and drives die hard fans of the franchise nuts. Once you have done that, then you will be on your way to being Director Mark Steven Johnson, who has completed said task not once, not twice but now three times. In 2003 he directed Daredevil, which was a critical knockout, and not in a good way. Two years later he was the writer and executive producer for Elektra, which got hit by a huge critical bus. So now, after all of that, Mr. Steven Johnson has come back with Ghost Rider, and lets just say that what he lacks in his decision making, he does make up with some visual flair.
The film stars Ghost Rider fanatic Nicholas Cage as Johnny Blaze, who as a young boy sells his soul to the devil (played by Peter Fonda, yes, that Peter Fonda) in order to cure his dad of cancer. Little does he know that the devil is a trickster who would kill his old man off anyway. Didn’t that kid read the New Testament? That devil is a sneaky bastard.
Anyway, the now soulless Johnny is cursed to one day become the Ghost Rider, the devil’s personal bounty hunter. Years later Johnny, after a painful amount of plot mis-development, Johnny is called upon by the devil to hunt down his son Blackheart (Wes Bentley) who is going through one of those “rebel against my father and destroy humanity” phases. This is a downer for Johnny, seeing as he has just reunited with his childhood love, played by Eva Mendes. Now Johnny must embrace his curse of being the Ghost Rider, and under the tutelage of a cemetery caretaker (Sam Elliot) he must find a way to defeat Blackheart, banish him back to the underworld and save all of mankind, all with his head on fire.
When you look at it that way it at least sounds cool, does it not? The only trouble that we run into is the fact that the plot in this film is severely underdeveloped. The entire film moves along at a pace that feels rushed for audience leaving nothing but questions: Why is the devil’s son trying to rebel? How did Johnny go from being a two-bit carney stunt biker to being Evel Knievel? And the all important question, why should we care?
Another set of issues entirely is the handling of Ghost Rider himself. Nicholas Cage, a devoted fan of the franchise (so much so that he has a Ghost Rider tattoo) should have paid more attention during post-production, because something went seriously wrong. If I remember correctly, Ghost Rider is one of the more bad-ass comic book characters, but this version of Ghost Rider is more silly than anything else. Every time he lights up into flames his voice sounds more like a lagoon creature than the devil’s henchman. Also coming in way over the top is Wes Bentley’s Blackheart. To say the least, Jason Lee was a more frightening version of demon spawn when he played Azreal in Kevin Smith’s Dogma, enough said. It begs yet another question: Are they really taking themselves seriously with this flick?
But while writer/director Johnson fails to answer that and other questions, which may be the ultimate downside of the film, he does create a few nice diversions of style. The visuals in the film are pretty slick. From the seamlessness of Nicholas Cage’s head exploding into a flaming skull to some pretty cool high flying motorcycle-on-fire stuff, Johnson finds a way to wow audiences enough to keep them awake. He took no shortcuts with the soundtrack either, leading me to believe that like Daredevil before it, this film will be pretty cool on DVD.
On the whole, Ghost Rider is, as I like to say, entertaining enough. It lacks any redeeming value for those seeking a great film, but it serves as 114 minutes of mindless escapism into a world where a flaming dude can ride around on a cool motorcycle. Seek not intellectual stimulation here. So if you don’t already have a hard-on for Ghost Rider, then I would suggest waiting because just like the rest of the films in the Mark Steven Johnson collection, this one will be much better when you can buy it out of the $5.99 bin at Wal-Mart.