Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Ghost Rider: Grade C


Ghost Rider (2007)

Nicolas Cage, Peter Fonda, Sam Elliot. Writer, director: Mark Steven Johnson

A young man sells his soul to the devil (Fonda) to save his father’s life. He becomes the devil’s sleeper cell. Fonda is a slow-talking, ironic devil, like Jack Nicholson without the menace. There are nice visual allusions to Easy Rider. The wit in this movie is its most attractive feature and Cage has some fine comedic moments, but it is not a consistent trait as it was for Bruce Willis in the Die Hard series. A lost opportunity there. As an adult, Cage must find and destroy the devil’s son before some nonsensical McGuffin is found. At that point, a good half hour into the movie, Cage morphs into Ghost Rider, a black-leathered dude with a flaming skull for a head, riding an enormous hog that leaves a trail of flames. The special effects are imaginative but rendered with cheese. GR’s assignment and strategy are unclear. He rips around town, burning up the highway, but pausing to save damsels in distress from urban punks, reminiscent of the Charles Bronson vigilante movies. There are also allusions to Dirty Harry, and later, to Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns. The flaming bike even behaves and sounds like a horse at times. And there’s a werewolf theme, as well as some Spider Man imagery as GR cycles up the vertical face of skyscrapers because he can. Any of these themes could have supported a story and/or parody, but the writer was directionless. Sam Elliot is a wonderful avuncular cowboy who gives Cage pointers on Ghost Riding. Finally there is a murky showdown between GR and Son of the Devil, though it is unclear what they are fighting over or how, since everyone is immortal and invincible. But Son of the Devil has dark eye makeup so he’s bad and must “die.” This whole movie is obviously designed to set up a franchise. Watch for Ghost Rider II: Avenger of Evil.

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