“This is the legend of the Ghost Rider…”
From the first few lines of narration, it feels like this could be something special. I love that legend stuff, plus the establishing shots of the Texas setting which, even though it’s contemporary, still has that Western feel. Especially since the voice-over is by good old Sam Elliott, basically serving the same purpose here as he did in The Big Lebowksi. Like in that masterpiece, Elliott starts out as an unspecified narrator, but he eventually shows up on screen to give some advice to the… I won’t say a hero, ’cause, what’s a hero? Sometimes, there’s a man. And I’m talking about the Ghost Rider here – the Ghost Rider from Texas. Sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place.
Before becoming the Rider, though, that man is just young Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage), half of a father-son team of daredevil motorcycle stuntmen. His transformation occurs when, to save the life of his dad, Johnny sells his soul to Mephistopheles (easy-rider Peter Fonda). Flash-forward decades later and the Devil comes back to get his due. His son, the sinister Blackheart (a miscast Wes Bentley), has come to Texas to suck up a thousand damned souls and thus overthrow his father and create a new Hell and… Heh, never mind. As is often the case with these things, the mythology is mostly a bunch of confused nonsense. Just think of it as a redo of the Little Nicky plot, but funnier.
Yes, funnier! “Ghost Rider” has many things going against it: the aforementioned botched storytelling, lame-ass villains, lousy action scenes… For most people, and “serious” critics for sure, this will sink the picture. I mean, those folks already railed against Daredevil, even though that Mark Steven Johnson comic book flick actually had awesome bad guys and better plotting (the action was still muddled, alas), so they’re sure to hate his new stab at a Marvel property. It’s never as awful as Elektra, but it’s definitely got some flaws.
The SFX of the Rider, with his burning skull and burning chains and kickass burning chopper, are pretty cool. It’s just too bad that once he’s transformed, Ghost Rider doesn’t get much to do. The problem is that, unlike with Daredevil or Spider-Man, there’s no vulnerability or physical toll here – this is an invincible supernatural being who’s never in any danger of getting hurt. Whoever the opponents are, whatever their lame-ass powers are, Ghost Rider just fires up and throws his fiery chain around and destroys them. How boring is that?
Still, if you’re expecting no more than B-movie fun, “Ghost Rider” does deliver on that level. It’s often hilarious, and generally intentionally, too! Rumor has it that Nic Cage rewrote much of his part, and I can totally buy that. Johnson already put quite a bit of humor in his Daredevil, but some of the most absurd touches could only come from an eccentric mind like Cage’s. You see, he has Johnny Blaze eating jelly beans from martini glasses, watching a lot of TV (including videos of chimps doing kung fu!), compulsively listening to The Carpenters (“Shh, you’re stepping on Karen.”), drinking coffee straight from the pot, repeatedly doing the Elvis finger-pointing move… And when Johnny turns into Ghost Rider, Cage gets to go even crazier, screaming and grimacing “Wicker Man”-style while his head catches on fire! “Ghost Rider” is a pretty bad movie, but part of me wants to recommend it anyway, if only for all that hilarious Nic Cage overacting.