Directed by Mark Steven Johnson. Starring Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Wes Bentley, Peter Fonda, Sam Elliott, Donal Logue. (2007, PG-13, 110 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Feb. 23, 2007
Ghost Rider is based on Marvel Comics' Seventies-era title featuring the character of Johnny Blaze, a stunt biker who sells his soul to the devil to save his father's life only to become the titular rider when the moon is full (or, you know, just there). He acts as Satan's bounty hunter, complete with a kickass Hellcycle and a badass flaming skull atop his semi-Evel Knievel body. Every kid I knew growing up dug the hell out of Ghost Rider, mainly because skulls are cool, and it was easy to safety-pin an ace of spades onto our bicycle spokes and terrorize the neighbors with death-defying one-foot jumps over two-by-fours and perform preposterously radical six-inch wheelies. We also dug Marvel's second-tier Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. because he wore an eyepatch, just like us. Director/screenwriter Johnson, who helmed the better-than-expected film version of Marvel's Daredevil a couple of years back, does little with the material here, but to be fair, in retrospect, there wasn't a surfeit of originality in the comic book to begin with. Even Ghost Rider's flaming head is a lift from the pages of Washington Irving. Johnson's version has Cage's Blaze up against Fonda's Mephistopheles, who's p.o.'ed at unholy offspring Blackheart (Bentley, of American Beauty) for making a power grab for mankind, thus forcing Blaze/Ghost Rider to battle the forces of darkness, save old flame Roxanne (Mendes), and look cool in the process. Casting the original Captain America in the role of Satan carries an appealing but none-too-subtle irony with it, but Cage, an avowed fan of lesser Marvel superheroes (he did rechristen himself after Luke Cage: Hero for Hire, you'll doubtless recall), is the film's only saving grace in a welter of cheesy (but accurate to the imagery of the Marvel series) special effects and dialogue that comes off as having been written by Stan Lee (it probably was, come to think of it). Not since his comic-horror turn in Vampire's Kiss has Cage had so much obvious fun with a role; he strut-shambles through the film like an aging BMXer too cool to trade up to a Prius, quaffing jellybeans out of cocktail glasses, busting out some oddly endearing Elvis moves, and just generally having a ball. It's not enough to save Ghost Rider, though, which has all the sugar-injected horsepower of a 6-year-old on a Big Wheel.