A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 120 – Ghost Rider

Ghost Rider – June 28th, 2010

I’m going to say this right up front so there’s no doubt as to why I enjoy this movie: Wes Bentley and his demon gang. That’s it. Okay, that’s not it completely, but it’s a good chunk of it. I’m a complete sucker for Bentley and guys who look like him (good cheekbones, dark hair, pale skin, blue eyes), and the whole elemental demon thing is always a direction I enjoy. Motorcycles are fun, as is fire. I mean, this should be a fun movie. It’s just lacking something. The things I love about it aren’t what should be the heart of the movie.

We begin the movie with carnival stunt rider Johnny Blaze making a deal with the devil to cure his father’s cancer, selling his soul in return for some clear x-rays only for his father to “mysteriously” die in an accident during a routine motorcycle stunt the next morning. Dang. That’s harsh, dude. But really, if you’re going to deal with the devil, you’ve got to go all Dethklock on him and make sure that contract is air tight. Anyhow, the devil totally kicks Johnny while he’s down, tells him it’s not worth trying to have a life or anything cause the devil owns him, and Johnny takes off out of town, leaving his sweetheart, Roxanne, behind. Again. Harsh.

Fast forward a ways and Johnny Blaze is now Nic Cage and a huge stunt star whose best friend and roadie is played by Donal Logue. He travels around, doing big motorcycle stunts and not dying cause the devil won’t let him, not making any attachments and being thoroughly miserable. And while he’s trying desperately to rekindle a romance with the girl he left behind when he was seventeen, the devil’s son has decided to put daddy out of business and gotten a little gang together to get a hold of a contract for a whole town’s worth of souls. Daddy calls in Johnny and thus we have our Ghost Rider, a motorcycle stunt man who really just wants a date with his old flame (get it? flame? right? GET IT?!) and the bulk of the movie involves a combination of Johnny trying to get out of the contract he made with the devil by trying to defeat devil jr. and his goons, and win over Roxanne while sporting a flaming skull head and wielding a chain whip and tasked with the job of judging the guilty and keeping Blackheart (devil jr.) at bay.

Maybe the problem lies with Nic Cage as an action hero. I like him okay in some roles, but he’s so laid back most of the time, it’s a weird role to see him in. I know he specifically wanted to play this role and I’m sure he enjoyed it, but I can’t really tell if it works. Maybe it’s that Wes Bentley steals the show for me. Maybe it’s that Wes Bentley’s coat steals the show even more. Maybe it’s that I really wanted to hear Henry Rollins’ Ghostrider on the soundtrack and it’s painfully conspicuous in its absence (to me, anyhow). Sure, there are things I like. I mean, it’s pretty cool that he learns how to deal with the whole bursting-into-flames thing by some Action Research! Actually, there are two action research scenes, and that’s pretty awesome. I do enjoy the climax and its lead-up, with the two Ghost Riders riding off into the desert, one on a horse and one on a motorcycle.

The more I think on it, the more I think it’s that the movie doesn’t do a good enough job setting itself up. Sure, it tells a good backstory for Johnny Blaze, but setting up Johnny is only half the plot. The entire thing with Blackheart and the devil and the contract they’re fighting for? And the intro and the last lines about legends of the West? It only barely touches on all of that. I get what it was going for. The closest it gets to linking everything is the scene I mentioned above with the two Riders. It’s a fantastic scene, even if not much happens in it. And the climax itself, taking place in the town whose inhabitants sold their souls, links it all. But up until then? It’s Johnny on his motorcycle in a big city. It’s the demons being demony in train yards and big cathedrals. It’s Johnny and Roxanne as a modern couple. There’s just so little set-up for the whole legend thing. It’s a big city superhero movie that wants to be a Western and it doesn’t manage it until the very end.

June 28, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Ghost Rider

June 28, 2010

Ghost Rider

Another week and another Marvel property brought to the big screen. Ghost Rider is one of those lesser known properties from the seventies (like, say, the Silver Surfer or Iron Man) so it doesn’t come with the instant recognition of a Spider Man or Hulk or X-Men movie. Lucky for us we have a cool opening monologue from Sam Elliott that presents the premise of the Ghost Rider, a kind of bounty hunter for Satan who has to collect the souls of the damned.

The movie starts out with a great vibe. The whole opening, set in the seventies it seems, has a cool kind of Devil came to Georgia feel to it. Young Johnny Blaze is a kid who does stunt driving at county fairs with his father. To save his father from dying of cancer Johnny signs a deal with the Devil. It goes about as well as you’d imagine that should go. His father doesn’t die of cancer anyhow.

Years later Johnny is a mega-successful stunt rider who leaps over trucks and helicopters. He seems unable to die, and is haunted by the fact that his success is probably the result of his ill-advised contract with Satan. And there are foul things afoot – with an extremely sinister devil named Blackheart (played with erie flare by Wes Bently from meeting with three elemental-themed demons who want to find this fabled lost contract. An entire town of damned souls owed to Satan that will give this young devil unimaginable power. Enough, perhaps, to defeat his father, Mephistopheles, and rule the Earth.

To defeat Blackheart the devil calls on Johnny, demanding that he fulfil his contract and return the rebellious demons to hell. And so Johnny Blaze becomes the latest Ghost Rider, with a cool new flaming skull make-over and a nifty flaming custom bike with a kind of bones and steel look. He leaves destruction in his wake and can see the evil in the hearts of criminals and use their sins against them. He meets up with an enigmatic grave-digger played by Sam Elliott (remember him, from the intro? Mr. Plot exposition?)

So there’s all this cool stuff the movie has going for it. Warring devils. Apocalyptic legends. Wes Bently. Sam Elliott. It’s also loaded with cool special effects. There’s a sinister vibe to the whole main plot that’s very well handled and makes for a really cool movie. So why, with all this cool stuff going for it, does the movie at times seem so cheesy and schmaltzy?

Two words: Nick Cage. I guess I enjoy his odd take on things, and I appreciate that he’s a fan of comic books and wants to play a comic book hero. But a lot of what he brings to this movie lessens it. Why the jelly beans and the obsession with monkeys on TV? Why the Carpenters? Even when he is supplanted by computer effects as the Ghost Rider his character is given to cartoonish one-liners, which don’t seem to fit the mood of the rest of the movie.

I don’t know. Maybe the film makers felt that having a hero with a flaming skull and spiked leather wardrobe made the movie too dark. But to make the hero, who looks so bad-assed and awesome, into the comic relief? I just wish they hadn’t, because it’s a pretty cool movie as it stands, and it might have been more.

Still. It’s a fun movie, even with the missed potential. It has moments of marquee awesome (such as the inevitable Ghost Riders in the Sky reference.) Even the romantic sub-plot is tolerable, mostly because Eva Mendez gives Blaze’s love interest Roxanne a little strength to go with her bodice defying build. Her character is meant to be the wailing damsel in distress who can’t live without Johnny – but she’s having none of it.

I hadn’t watched this movie all the way through since seeing it in the theater way back when it first came out (all of three years ago.) I’ve thrown it in the DVD player just to have something to watch once in a while and been turned off by Cage’s comic take on things and decided I had better things to do than watch it all the way through. I’m pleased, on this second complete viewing, to see that for the most part the film is as fun as I remembered it being that first time. You just have to get past some of the cheese in the middle.

June 28, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment