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The Reel Deal

GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE

A Reel Deal Film Review

Film Insight by Tyler Malone

February 2012

Reel Rating: 0 out of 5

“THAT TIME O’ YEAR, FOLKS”

Sometimes I wonder if February and March were created by the gods as a junkyard for crappy movies. January still has the leftovers of the previous year’s Oscar contenders, and by the time we get to April, it’s already the dawn of Summer blockbuster season. And not that the Summer doesn’t provide plenty of crap too, of course, but there’s also, usually, a number of great popcorn flicks–the kind of films Hollywood is famous for making. Then, as Summer turns to Fall, the best movies of the year tend to pop up seemingly out of nowhere, just in time for an Oscar nomination.

But February and March rarely get more than a handful of decent film releases (usually a couple good foreign or arthouse films that just missed awards season, but beyond that it’s a dead zone). These two months are where movies go to die. Though obviously there are a few exceptions to this rule every year, as far as I know, there hasn’t been one yet in 2012. In fact, the sequel to Ghost Rider, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is exactly what I’m talking about. It is emblematic of the excremental films that get released in this two-month period. In theory, it could have had a Summer release, since it is a superhero film, and thus, by nature, has at least some blockbuster potential. Obviously though, the studio knew they had a terrible movie on their hands, so they dropped it into the no man’s land of February releases, which is right where it belongs (that is if it belongs anywhere other than straight-to-DVD release).

Now I can admit that I have a general weakness for superhero films which comes from my having grown up as a comic book nerd. Even some of the less-than-stellar comic book movies of the last decade, I’ve enjoyed on some level. Even the first Ghost Rider, which admittedly had more than its fair share of problems, was still a somewhat fun, wild ride into Nic Cage craziness. The same cannot be said of the sequel. There’s plenty of Nic Cage craziness, but nothing fun about it–and even the great Cage-isms come too few and far between to keep just about anyone’s interest piqued.

Nic Cage is back as Johnny Blaze aka the titular Ghost Rider, and he’s hiding out in Eastern Europe, trying to escape his demons (literally and figuratively). Thanks to a drunk French monk (Idris Elba), he gets roped into helping save a boy that Satan (Ciarán Hinds) intends on turning into his new vessel. Not the best of plots, but it could be worse. The real problem isn’t the general story (which was created by David S. Goyer, who helped with the story on the unparalleled superhero masterpiece The Dark Knight), but with pretty much everything else. The writing, especially the dialogue, is horrendous, the direction is haphazard and incoherent, and the acting is so over-the-top that it quickly goes from so-bad-it’s-good to so-bad-it’s-bad-again. It’s hard to like a film this completely intellectually bankrupt, but at least if you’re going to go light on meaning and rationality and coherence, then you might as well make it fun. The only moments that were even the slightest bit enjoyable were the few times I laughed with a disapproving shake of my head at terrible Cage lines/delivery (which, no matter the movie, are often as awesome as they are awful).

I’ve long had a running debate with fellow cineastes about the merits of Nicolas Cage. He’s a polarizing figure–usually loved or hated. Did you know he’s actually loved by film critic Roger Ebert? And not just loved, but excessively praised: “There are often lists of the great living male movie stars: De Niro, Nicholson and Pacino, usually. How often do you see the name of Nicolas Cage? He should always be up there. He’s daring and fearless in his choice of roles, and unafraid to crawl out on a limb, saw it off and remain suspended in air. No one else can project inner trembling so effectively[…]He always seems so earnest. However improbable his character, he never winks at the audience. He is committed to the character with every atom and plays him as if he were him.” While I can’t agree with Ebert that Cage should be up in a list with the greatest of actors, I can agree with him that Cage “is committed to the character with every atom and plays him as if he were him.” No matter how ridiculous the character or scene or dialogue, Nicolas Cage will remain dedicated to the portrayal, always giving 110%.

My general thought on Cage though is that if he has a great director guiding him, he can pull off a performance that will literally leave you breathless: think about the bravura performance Herzog coaxes out of him in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, or the virtuoso portrayal Cage does of a fictionalized Charlie Kaufman in the Spike Jonze directed Adaptation, or the chaotic and campy fairy tale performance that is just what David Lynch needed at the center of his Wild at Heart, or the comedic craziness he conjures up for the Coen Brothers in Raising Arizona. Those aren’t his only four great performances either, for Cage naysayers, here are five more: think Kick-Ass, think Bringing Out the Dead, think The Weather Man, think Leaving Las Vegas, think Matchstick Men. Give this man a good director, and he’ll give a great performance.

Of course, Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the co-directors of this sequel to Ghost Rider, are clearly not great directors, and they have no sense of being able to reign Cage in or steer him in any meaningful direction, so instead you get a pretty terrible performance in an even more abhorrent film. I’d be disappointed, but it’s that time o’ year, folks, so I’ve just come to expect this garbage. Hey, at least we only got another month ’til Summer blockbuster season starts (and this Summer is looking to be quite an enjoyable one for popcorn flicks, with promising superhero movies like The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Avengers set to be released, as well as other potential great Summer blockbusters like The Bourne Legacy and Prometheus).

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is a film directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, and written by Scott M. Gimple, Seth Hoffman, and David S. Goyer. It stars Nicolas Cage, Violante Placido, Ciarán Hinds and Idris Elba. As Johnny Blaze hides out in Eastern Europe, he is called upon to stop the devil, who is trying to take human form.

LINKS:

Official Site: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

IMDb: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Written by Tyler Malone

Photography Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Design by Jillian Mercado

Captions:

Press Photo from Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Photography Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

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