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Eva Mendes for flaming urine. Seems like a square deal. – Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

February 18, 2012

I can’t remember much about the first Ghost Rider. Peter Fonda played the devil, I remember that. (Ooh, he was Captain America in Easy Rider — how META!) Sam Elliot and his great voice were in there too. Eva Mendes was a vapid Cleavage Delivery System. There were evil elemental henchmen whose powers consisted of floating around and standing still while Ghost Rider dispatched them without a whole lot of effort. And Wes Bentley, the boy whose piercing eyes stormed the entertainment world in American Beauty, was well on his way to career and personal rock bottom. I thought he looked drugged. Turns out he probably was.

I kept a movie journal back in those pre-blog, pre-Facebook 2007 days, in which I wrote down thoughts about the films I watched. I pulled it off a dusty shelf when I got home from the theater last night, just to see what I thought of the first film back when it was fresh (I haven’t seen it since). I was bored and disappointed. That’s all you need to know. The bar was set quite low for this redo/sequel/requel.

I was curious about whether Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance would succeed. I wanted it to. I wanted Neveldine/Taylor to bring their Crank mindset to Johnny Blaze’s asphalt world, to whip out the defibrillator paddles and maybe zap Nicolas Cage back to life.

Do they?

No. This movie blows. Hard. That’s the short of it. Some thoughts, with the mildest of mild spoilers mixed in:

  1. First, a gripe about general moviegoing conditions. The theater was mostly empty when I saw this, not a good sign at 7:00 on a Friday. One of the clusters of people was a four person family, with the two children, a boy and a girl, being in the “barely able to walk, ‘Daddy can you carry me?'” age bracket. Yes, these model parents apparently thought that a loud, stupid movie about a flaming skeleton that kills people would be charming family fare. The girl mewled and cried throughout. Hollywood needs to understand that it’s not piracy that’s killing the movie experience, it’s garbage like that.
  2. The movie has the barest semblance of a plot, a boring “END OF THE WORLD” tissue of prophecies and rituals and devil-children that was done to death about twenty years ago. It’s like a Michael Bay movie, but without the lovingly crafted grandiosity and glistening boobs. While I appreciate the film’s willingness to hurl us right into the action without laboring over hours of exposition, the breathless pace could use a few more quiet moments. Well, maybe not, because the few times this thing slows down it’s only to throw in the lamest cliché or joke that you can imagine. If you’ve seen the trailers, the film is merely an extended director’s cut of those.
  3. Yes, the flaming pee stream from the first preview is in the movie. And there’s also a reprise. EXCELSIOR.
  4. The Nicolas Cage we get here is more the Wicker Man “NO NOT THE BEES” Cage than the Wild at Heart Cage. He’s palpably disinterested, and rarely rouses himself into any semblance of caring. When he tries to be crazy and dangerous, it’s laughable. The man is in financial straits and has piles of bills to pay, and “in it for the money” underlies his performance — or the lack thereof. You can almost hear the creditors dunning him as he somnambulates his way around.
  5. There are brief, crudely animated interludes that provide backstory, which are blandly, badly narrated by Cage. They’re quite forgettable. One also contains an atrocious joke, whose punchline you can see coming from miles away, though you’re unsure of the form it will take until it hits you in the face. It’s patently, cringingly unfunny. When you see Jerry Springer, you’ll know what I mean.
  6. Ciarán Hinds plays Roarke, the stand-in for the first film’s Mephistopheles. He was a pleasant distraction, not for anything that transpired onscreen, mind you, but because I thought back to his time as Julius Caesar in HBO’s Rome, and fondly remembered what a great show that was. Then I thought of how that series’ notoriously expensive production led to its cancellation after two seasons, and I got sad. We never even got the movie that we were promised. Then I thought how studio execs managed to scrape together enough cash to finance this steaming pile, and that got me all irate. IT WAS A HELL OF A RIDE.
  7. There’s a hot gypsy broad with a lot of eye-shadow in this, one who fathered the son of the devil because of a bargain with him to save her life or YOU KNOW I DON’T REALLY CARE. She’s fetching, though. She can pick my pocket any day. And Idris Elba, fresh off his dignified turn as Heimdall in Thor, plays a French priest facilitator (when your belief system includes angels that turn into motorcycle-riding demons it’s time to lay off the Communion wine) who sets Blaze/Ghost Rider on the trail of the devil-kid who has to be saved. Elba’s dignity is still intact, but it’s a bit dinged after being in this. It’s like going into an airplane lavatory after a big fat guy drops a deuce — you carry some of that stink out with you.
  8. Part of this movie was lensed in Turkey, and I swear to God some of the scenes were set in the same spots where the Turkish Star Wars training scenes were shot. Fitting. Could Kemal Atatürk have foreseen what his country’s Westernization would entail?
  9. Christopher Lambert. Remember him? The Highlander guy? Who waaaaaants to liiiiiiiiiiive foreveeeeeeeeeeer? Princes of the Universe? Yeah, him. He’s in it too, providing graphic evidence of why men with full facial tattoos cannot ever — EVER — be trusted. His presence also serves as a final confirmation that we are ass deep in B-movie territory.
  10. Ghost Rider. The only times this movie remotely resembles a real, authentic, gen-u-ine movie spectacle is when the Zarathos pops his flaming head out and does that Ghost Ridering thing. His design is darker and more angular than it was five years ago, and there are a few small but delightful character touches to go along with it, like the creepy swaying he does in his first appearance when deciding who to kill. Also, he can now turn any motorized conveyance into a hellish approximation of his motorcycle, which I’m betting will lead to endless audience musings about him in flaming Go Karts and John Deere riding lawnmowers. There’s a lot of forced stupidity (see: flaming pee), but there’s still lingering appeal to seeing his flame-wreathed cranium on a silver screen.

I hated last summer’s Green Lantern. This could be worse. Most of the reviews I’ve read for Spirit of Vengeance, even the (majority) negative ones, have said that this is better than its predecessor. I’m not so sure that it is. I doubt it. The first was recognizably a film, and Cage had more invested in what he was doing. This is a watery mess.

I’m done. I don’t want to think about it anymore.

Because of the not-saving grace of Ghost Rider himself, the movie is rescued from a shutout. I give it one flaming urine stream out of five:

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Thelonious_Nick permalink
    February 23, 2012 2:04 pm

    My gosh, there was a new Ghost Rider movie? How did you learn about this? Or maybe I saw some ads and was so thoroughly non-impressed I forgot about them immediately after viewing…

    • February 23, 2012 4:29 pm

      If you forgot them, then you might actually be surprised by the movie’s action, because every single beat and “thrill” is spelled out in the ads. Otherwise you’ll wind up, like me, spending the entire runtime thinking “this is the part where…”

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