February 22, 2007

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Ghost Rider (PG-13)
Nicholas Cage is a skull-faced, fame-covered, devil-working-for, motorcycle-riding bad-ass in Ghost Rider, a movie that goes vroom vroom and then whoosh, flames.

Not just a little flames but whoosh whoosh, big flames, everywhere. Bad-ass devil flames (well, actually the devil himself brings cold air but Cageís flames are devil-created). Watching Ghost Rider is a little bit like listening to a story made up by an elementary-school boy ó stuff blows up, there are motorcycles and skulls, the main character gets to fight demons, thereís a cute girl but her purpose is vague and secondary and there is very little talking or character development.

Too bad elementary school kids will have to wait a couple of years to see this PG-13 movie; a little less internal-organ-burning and this movie would have had a ready-made demographic.

Which is not to say that enough readers of the comic book and general non-verbal action wonít turn out to watch Cage fulfill every prediction of his continued post-Oscar-winning descent. Johnny Blaze (Cage; and really, unless his name was Explody Ka-Pow it could not be more one-dimensionally perfect) is a motorcycle stunt man who seems to be as unkillable as the cheerleader from Heroes. As a youth (Matt Long), he watched his dad perform death-defying stunts only to be slowly killed by the ordinary act of smoking. The night after he finds out about his fatherís lung cancer, young Johnny receives a visit from a skull-topped walking-stick carrying Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda) who offers to cure his dad in exchange for his soul. Johnny agrees and then gets to enjoy a few hours of his dadís surprise recovery before the devil kills him in a stunt accident, telling Johnny that one day heís going to collect on his soul. Johnny goes on to test death, each time wondering if heís the one making the stunts work or if itís the devil protecting his property. After he almost convinces himself that he isnít living under a curse, Meph returns and tells Johnny that his payment is to become the Ghost Rider, the devilís personal bounty hunter. His job is to track down Blackheart (Wes Bentley), the devilís son who is attempting to overthrow him, and deliver the son, his posse of demons and a contract for thousands of souls back to Mephistopheles.

Johnny says no but then immediately turns in to the Ghost Rider, a flaming skeleton that can ride like the asphalt-melting, car-exploding wind. And also make stuff (bad guysí souls, glass, air) burst into flames. Determined not to just be the devilís errand boy or to let the devil gather the power the contract would allow him to, Johnny decides to attempt to get control of the power and kick evilís butt.

Wandering in and out of some of these scenes is Roxanne (Eva Mendes), Johnnyís childhood sweetheart whoís still got sugary feelings about him.

One of many funny aspects of Ghost Rider is Roxanneís role. It takes her and Johnny a while to kiss, Johnny almost never gets out a full sentence around her and, other than stand around and look hot, she doesnít really do all that much. Itís a still-weirded-out-by-girls boyís definition of an old-fashioned comic book girlfriend. Sheís all gooey for the hero but not in away that wastes time with relationship talk or gets all icky with kissing. And Johnny is all around not a very talky guy. He limits most of his expression of opinions and ideas to killing bad guys via a sort of inside-out eyeball-searing and by very dramatically and stagely pointing at the odd evildoer while saying ďyou.Ē

Quite the communicator.

To say that Ghost Rider is silly doesnít quite capture the Sunday-matinee fun of the movie but to say itís so-bad-itís-good is overrating it. Ghost Rider is a movie made for too-greasy popcorn and an audience of cheering and chuckling people equally interested in turning their brains off for a while. If the site of Cage swilling jelly beans from a martini glass sounds like just a little too much goofy for you, save this movie for its inevitable appearance on basic cable. C+

PG-13 for horror violence and disturbing images. Written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson, Ghost Rider is an hour and 50 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Columbia Pictures