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Ghost Rider

Unless you're looking for a reason to feel like your own skull is on fire, steer your chopper away from Ghost Rider, the worst adaptation of a Marvel Comics hero yet.


Among Marvel's cinematic output, Ghost Rider crashes and burns resoundingly at the bottom, largely because the character's appeal has always been its unique visual—the leather-clad biker with the blazing skull—over any compelling storyline. Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage), a young carnival biker, barters his soul to Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda) to save his father from cancer, only to see him die in a fiery crash. Blaze grows up to become an Evel Knievel-style superstar on the edge, swilling martini glasses full of jellybeans and chilling to the Carpenters to soothe his jangled nerves in anticipation the day the devil will collect his due. And collect he does, transforming Blaze into Ghost Rider, the flaming skull face charged with meting out demonic retribution to those deserving, sitting on top his supernaturally tricked-out Hellcycle. Soon GR is battling Mephistopheles' rebellious offspring Blackheart (Wes Bentley), who's escaped from Hell to wreak havoc. Meanwhile, the long-lost love of Blaze's life, curvy TV reporter Roxanne (Eva Mendes), resurfaces at just the wrong time, and a mysterious cemetery caretaker (Sam Elliott) tempts him with the secrets of how he might beat his curse.


Even Nicolas Cage's consciously campy performance can't save Ghost Rider from dropping like a semi-jumping stunt cyclist whose engine cuts out in mid-leap. Acting A-lister Cage—who's loved Ghost Rider since his youth and long sought a comic book character to make his own on screen—takes a very Vincent Price approach to the hero/monster, investing him with some quirky, self-consciously campy characteristics reminiscent of some of the Oscar-winner's earliest roles. Unfortunately, he seems to be the only one on the film who's in on the joke, let down by writer-director Mark Steven Johnson's juvenile, unsubtle style. Even worse, the CGI Ghost Rider captures none of Cage's idiosyncrasies, divorcing the actor from the role, which becomes little more than a video game avatar. Mendes, usually a welcome presence, is at sea here, acting primarily with her cleavage. Elliott adds his disarming Marlboro Man gravitas to an otherwise ill-conceived role, Fonda's contribution amounts little more than the irony of his having once played a biker icon in Easy Rider, and a queasy-looking Bentley chews the cheap scenery in an actor-ly attempt to "have fun" with his stock-evil non-character.


Despite his very real affection and enthusiasm for the material, Johnson is 0-2 in his attempts to translate Marvel heroes to the screen: Daredevil was his first dud, despite a solid cast and excellent source material. Given that Ghost Rider lacks the latter, it's no surprise that Johnson's second attempt suffers a blowout, but his clunky, junky screenplay and uninventive, out-of-date directing style—a cheap, late-'80s horror flick style better suited to straight-to-video Chucky sequels—also make it clear he's utterly unsuited to craft comic book-inspired epics. He—and we—would've been better off if he'd made Ghost Rider his own by simply getting a cool tattoo.

Bottom Line rated this film 1 1/2 stars.