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Ghost Rider

dir: Mark Steven Johnson
[img_assist|nid=788|title=It's worse than it looks|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=335|height=400]
I knew this flick would be a disaster. In concept, in implementation, and in the fact that they chose to film it in Melbourne. For a big budget comic book adaptation, this had stinker projecting outwards from it when they were making it two years ago in Melbourne’s side streets and cemeteries. Melbourne standing in for a generic Texan city: that’s hilarious.

But mostly I knew this would be craptacular because of the singular absence of the Alan Vega / Suicide version of the song Ghost Rider. They couldn’t even get the Rollins Band version of it. They couldn’t even get some crappy contemporary emo band like My Chemical Romance to cover the goddamn song. Now that would have been a treat.

From such an inauspicious beginning does the rest of the fiasco proceed. Then they cast Nicolas Cage in the lead role, who attacks it with the kind of hopped-up Elvis impersonation he only gives in his most awful performances. His excruciating performance rivals anything he recently did in the equally appalling Wicker Man remake. And that wig, my gods above, that wig on Cage’s head: it is the most unbelievable special effect in the entire movie. And when a movie contains demons, spirits and a flaming skeleton on the bike from hell, and it’s the wig that looks the most unbelievable, you know the problems are just starting.

Johnny Blaze is a motorcycle stunt driver, just like his daddy. When daddy falls ill, Johnny makes a deal with Mephistopheles (the cadaverous Peter Fonda, and I don’t think it’s the makeup) to save daddy. This means the devil’s got Johnny’s soul.

That sounds like it wouldn’t be that pleasant a state of affairs for the protagonist, but he acts like such an irritating arsehole throughout that I hardly cared if he regained his soul or not, or whether all his bones were extracted one at a time through his nose.

He has a lady love, Roxanne (Eva Mendes, as woefully miscast as anyone else in this flick), who he has to protect from, uh, something.

What poor plot exists here arises from the devil’s son Blackheart (Wes Bentley) walking around killing people by making them go blue searching for the contract of San Garbanzo, or something equally absurd. Mephistopheles wants his son and his poorly computer generated henchmen dealt with, so he transforms Johnny into the hellish hellspawn Ghost Rider of the title.

As utterly crap as I thought pretty much everything in this film was, which sounds and plays out like The Crow, Spawn, Constantine and every other comic book revenge supernatural adaptation you can think of, I actually liked the appearance of the Ghost Rider. For me, it taps into something quite scary from when I was younger. Apart from the natural scariness of flaming skeletons, I guess.

I don’t have pleasant memories of any comic book golden age, nor do I either get overly riled up in righteous fury or depressed when another cinematic rendering is created. They as variable as any of the other adaptations of any other materials, whether it be decent books or computer games, none of which I’m generally invested in. At least for me, my one childhood memory of ever looking at a Ghost Rider comic book is that it was one of the only instances that I can remember where I was more afraid of the hero in those comics than I was of any of the other villains or characters.

I was ten at the time, of course.

So, for some mysterious reason, seeing the actual Ghost Rider does impress me, and it is very well implemented at least in terms of the look. Everything else is utter crap, make no mistake. This is not a flick that exists as a guilty pleasure, as a switch off yer mind action flick or as a cheesy so bad it’s good experience. It is just plainly bad, and it is incompetently put together with a terrible script and abundant awful performances.

I can’t gild the lily any more or any less than that. It is fun for me to create insults for the people involved in making bad flicks, but in this instance these faculties have abandoned me. I would actually be giving these lazy hacks more attention than they deserve by insulting them for creating something so relentlessly mediocre.

The Ghost Rider appears only at night, when innocent blood is spilled, or whenever the script requires it. He stands quite tall with a flaming skull, and rides a demonic Harley. He is, as far as I can tell, virtually indestructible when in the Rider form, and wields a flaming chain or flaming feather boa, I’m not sure, with which to screw up peoples' days. His powers amount to just being able to do whatever the script requires. If they want him to drive vertically up a skyscraper or drive on the Yarra River, he can do so. If they want him to be able to transform simple objects into whatever is required for the scene, he can do so. It’s that kind of magical "whatever" thinking that makes you wonder why the hell you bother ever going to the cinema anymore.

His greatest magical power, the Penitent Stare, makes people feel really, really bad about themselves, so bad that they just die. Talk about cinematic fireworks!

The villains make no sense and are very badly played, the plot makes no sense, the relationship as portrayed by Mendes and Cage is less believable than that between politicians and reality. The occasional sighting of recognisable bits of Melbourne and Sam Eliot’s strangely credible performance as a cemetery caretaker, in a movie fundamentally lacking any credibility, doesn’t make up for the 88 other minutes of purgatory. Flinders Lane and the Carlton Cemetery especially get a flogging, presumably because they’re the most Texan parts of Melbourne.

It’s a stupid story with a nonsensical plot and an unworkable ‘super’ hero, and it never works at any stage. It’s the most formulaic, generic and worthless comic book adaptation I’ve seen in a long while

2 reasons (though there are millions) why there should not be a goddamn sequel to this dire flick out of 10

“Come over here and I'll kill you, you son of a bitch!” – Ghost Rider.