Manic performance works for 'Ghost Rider'

Reeling It In

"Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance"
Columbia Pictures
1 hour, 35 minutes

I think maybe Nicholas Cage just lapped himself. The actor made a name for himself playing wild and/or weird characters in movies like "Raising Arizona," "Kiss of the Vampire," or "Moonstruck." The movies were fun, and Cage just seemed like the kind of guy who could or would do anything. Then he got stuck in the leading man/hero niche and did those movies for years. Pretty straight performances -- flat, even. And the movies just got worse and worse.


After a while, I think, Cage finally woke up to the fact that almost all of his movies were terrible and pretty much just quit trying. I mean, what was he doing in last year's awful "Season of the Witch?" Punching a clock. That could also be said for the first "Ghost Rider," which I enjoyed despite myself. Lately, however, I think he's tired of phoning it in, and is just playing crazy again for the heck of it. This might play hell with most directors' visions, but for this week's "Ghost Rider" sequel, directed by the guys who brought us "Crank," it fits just right. Nicholas Cage accidently made a pretty decent movie.

That's to be taken with a grain of salt, obviously. "Ghost Rider" isn't trying to be "The Artist," obviously, so the level of quality is kind of a sliding scale. That said, how awesome would it be to see a black and white, silent romantic comedy starring Nicholas Cage as a fiery demon biker from Hell, directed by the "Crank" guys? There's no question -- "Ghost Rider 2" is pulp -- pure pulp, but with it's high energy, stellar special effects, and cheesy dialogue, it's one of the most enjoyable nights at the movies I've had in a long time.

If you don't remember, or somehow missed "Ghost Rider 1," here's a refresher. Cage is Johnny Blaze, a daredevil stunt motorcyclist with a dark secret. Years ago, in a misguided effort to save his father's life, Blaze sold his soul to the devil. After a while, the devil showed up and demanded payment. As a result, Blaze is cursed to live a double life. Sometimes he's a goofy showman, and others, particularly when in the presence of injustice, he dramatically transforms into a flaming skeleton with a cool studded leather jacket and a wicked chain for whacking evil-doers.

In the first movie, Ghost Rider battled various demonic baddies and eventually had it out with the devil himself. I can't remember how it all turned out, but suffice it to say that Johnny Blaze continues to blaze for justice. In the present film, a few years have passed, and we find our hero slumming in Eastern Europe where, in no time at all, he's drawn into a sinister plot involving armed thugs, devil worshipers, and the big man himself, all twisted up in the fate of one 12-year old boy, who might just be the son of Satan. What follows is a good hour-and-a-half of car chases, Ghost Rider attacks, and occult intrigue. It's silly and mindless, but really a blast.

Of all the comic book treatments I've seen in years past, "Ghost Rider 2" holds the distinction for being one of the most comic bookiest. So often today, filmmakers and screenwriters approach the subject matter from a realistic point of view. It's all so heavy. In contrast, this movie says, "Who cares!

This is about a guy with a burning marshmallow for a head and a rolling nuclear meltdown for transportation. Let's just have fun with it!" And that they do, letting Cage roil around, mug for the camera, scream at the heavens, and basically do whatever he wants.

Anchoring this manic performance are some pretty awesome special effects and very nice visual composition. "Ghost Rider 2" never stoops to actually using the tired split-screen gimmick, but the look of the film really mimics the drama and intensity from the page. The fire CG is some of the best I've seen, it's oily, dark, dirty look perfectly capturing the essence of Johnny Blaze's inner, and outer demons.

The dialogue is terrible, and the script isn't much better, but both delightfully so. I wouldn't say this ineptness is intentional -- it's never as much fun that way, but it does make the film that much more enjoyable. "Ghost Rider 2" is nothing if not way-out crazy mayhem, and it embraces it's pulpy roots without reservation. That it gives Nicholas Cage an opportunity to act nutty again in an appropriate setting is just the icing on the cake.

Grade: B+

"Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" is rated PG-13 for non-stop comic book violence and action, and some strong language.

Chris Jennes is freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.


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