Plot: Young Johnny Blaze, a motorcycle stunt rider, sells his soul to the devil (Fonda). The deal goes sour, yet years later, the devil uses that soul to transform the now grown-up Johnny (Cage) into an eerie flame-encased spectre bent on doing the devil's business - with Johnny turning back into his normal self by the light of the day. Now, Blaze's new night persona must bring the devil's own son Blackheart (Bentley) back to his father's side...while his day self tries to reconcile with his long-lost girlfriend (Mendes).
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Slowly getting back into our normal routine, Blockbuster® was one of our first stops this past weekend, where we picked up Ghost Rider, The Last Mimzy (2007) and Shooter (2007). However, since we hadn’t yet finished unpacking from our recent move, we had to put off watching the films until recently.
Casting Nicolas Cage as the lead character in a Marvel comic adaptation seemed a bit odd to me when I first heard about it. After all, why would action star Nic Cage agree to it? When I discovered it was as the Ghost Rider, however, it all made a bit more sense: after all, why would Nic Cage, a lover of motorcycles himself, turn down the chance to play a character that rides a motorcycle the entire film?
Having figured out why he chose to play the character, I was definitely interested to see if he would be able to bring his impressive acting skills to make Ghost Rider a good character-driven movie despite what was guaranteed to be a large amount of special effects. Since the main character’s head is a skull encased in flames, it’s a given that special effects shots are going to be plentiful – but will Nic Cage be able to bring the acting up a notch to make the film worthy of listening to – or is Ghost Rider destined to be just another special effects-laden stunt show?
When viewers see the name Nicolas Cage in a movie, they expect great things – especially in action movies. After all, he’s stepped up to the challenge of providing a very likable action star before with films like Con Air (1997), The Rock (1996) and National Treasure (2004). Unfortunately, something seems to be missing in his performance in Ghost Rider. He just doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself at all. While it’s true his character is supposed to be a tortured soul, he spends a great deal of the film just moping around – and it gets a bit annoying.
The only time he really seems to brighten up is when he’s around his Ghost Rider co-star Eva Mendes. Eva and Nic, while halting in their romantic attitudes toward each other, work together pretty well on-screen, and bring out each others cheerier sides.
The other characters, including an ill-used Peter Fonda as Mephistopheles, are pretty much background noise – and enemy fodder – for the Ghost Rider. He never really seems to be in any sort of danger – even at the climactic battle scene at the end of the film. Instead, Nic knows how the film will end – and it shows on his face whenever he fights the bad guys – and it’s obvious enough on his face that the viewer knows it too. This assuredness in his fate reduces a lot of the drama of the film. Sure, we know the good guys are probably going to win in the end – but there is always the slight possibility they won’t – or at least it may be a bit of a bittersweet victory. That lingering possibility doesn’t exist in Ghost Rider – and the movie is that much worse off because of it.
The special effects, on the other hand, live up to viewer’s expectations in Ghost Rider, delivering not only the flaming head but some fun flaming chain acrobatics and a monstrous motorcycle with a mind of it’s own. Occasionally, the CGI aspect of the film is visible enough to distract the viewer from the action, but for the most part the special effects live up to their end of the bargain.
Despite Nicolas Cage’s halfhearted efforts and his good on-screen chemistry with Eva Mendes, Ghost Rider turns out to be little more than a special effects extravaganza. With a little more effort on Nic’s part, this film could have lived up to the fan’s expectations. Instead, it turns out to be little better than the Thomas Jane version of The Punisher (2004) – all hype and effects, with little to back it up.
Ghost Rider is still worth a rental as part of an action movie marathon, but if you buy it, it’ll probably get really old and dusty on your shelf before you decide to sit through a second viewing.