Seeing Ghost Rider is like going to Saturday matinee serials at the Rialto eons ago.
It's a fanciful, puerile experience -- a fun day out for 9-year olds. Ghost Rider is a ridiculous melange of cheesy effects, talentless extras, corny plot and insipid music.
It's basically an unimaginative battle between good and evil. But it's certainly no worse than Buck Rogers. It's got its moments. And it's in color. Blessedly there are no quotes in the ads for Ghost Rider.
The studio didn't preview the movie until the last minute, and they didn't use crass, Mephistophelian hacks such as Pete Hammond or talk schmo host Larry King to vulture their wares.
Without the reviewers' quotes, Ghost Rider topped the box office with more than $50 million for the four-day Presidents Day weekend. Maybe studios will realize they don't need these buffoons.
Ghost Rider is the story of Johnny Blaze, a young man who sells his soul to the devil to save his dad. Mephistopheles sends him to Iraq -- oh, wrong plot.
Mephistopheles reneges on the deal with Johnny Blaze. Johnny flees and becomes an Evel Knievel-like daredevil, but Mephistopheles comes to collect his debt. He orders Johnny to destroy his satanic son Blackheart and his evil minions, so that he rules supreme in the realm of evil.
At night Johnny turns into a Ghost Rider -- a flaming skeleton on a flaming motorcycle, and his war against evil gets rolling.
One wonders why in heaven's name Nic Cage would get involved in such a project as Ghost Rider. This is the man who won an Oscar in 1995 as best actor for Leaving Las Vegas. I guess the next step to Leaving Las Vegas is Entering Hell, vis-a-vis Ghost Rider.
The role of Johnny Blaze gives Nic Cage a chance to wear one of Frank Sinatra's old hairpieces and act out of his skull. In the buff he also has a Groucho Marx scene before a mirror. When Cage left Australia where Ghost Rider was shot he may have left his bag of leftover steroids for Sly Stallone.
Cage is a self-deprecating actor and he has a lot to be self-deprecating about in his performance as Johnny Blaze. But Cage seems oblivious to the clunky dialogue he is given. He delivers it like the Sermon on the Cycle.
Matt Long plays the young Johnny. Long's claim to fame is that previously his scenes were deleted from the movie Winter Solstice (2004). It's not hard to figure out why. He's vapid.
The other actors wage war with their roles. A good sidekick is a staple, but Donal Logue is nothing more than a dull sidekick. As Mephistopheles Peter Fonda -- without motorcycle -- is queasy rider. Eva Mendes is generic as the girlfriend Johnny leaves and meets again. She's no Lois Lane.
Sam Elliott as Caretaker is more flopsy than crusty. He knows he has bad dialogue so he mumbles it in hopes that no one will notice. He's a poor man's -- very poor man's -- Walter Brennan or Fuzzy St. John. Elliott acts like he'd never spit tobaccky before.
Wes Bentley as the villainous Blackheart looks like a scowling deer in the headlights.
But there's not much point in criticizing the supporting cast. It's like criticizing Anthony Warde, who played Killer Kane, in Buck Rogers.
The movie Ghost Rider is based on the Marvel comics character and was written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson. His previous credits include Daredevil and Elektra. I liked Daredevil more than most critics.
Most of Johnson's sequences are unimaginative. But Ghost Rider does have one great, arresting image of a fiery ghost rider on a motorcycle riding beside a fiery ghost rider on horseback. If only the movie had more such potent, poetic images.
The one misstep I can't forgive Johnson is having Spiderbait, a trio from Finley, Australia, render the credit sequence song Ghost Riders in the Sky. He could have chosen the deep, sonorous version by Vaughn Monroe. Or he could have used a version by Frankie Laine, who died February 6 at age 93, or Johnny Cash. Instead he went with a twerpy cover. That's unforgivable. That's Jezebel.
Overall Ghost Rider is too amiable to raise one's critical hackles much. It's a good-natured bad movie. Yippee-yi-ay! Yippee-yi-oh!
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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