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Ghost Rider

Ghost Rider

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 2 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Extended 1-Disc DVD: Extended version of the film with 13 minutes of never-before seen footage; Filmmaker commentaries.
Extended 2-Disc DVD (HMV Exclusive): Extended version of the film with 13 minutes of never-before seen footage; Commentary with Writer/Director Mark Steven Johnson and Visual Effects Supervisor Kevin Mack; Commentary with Producer Gary Foster; 3 Making of Documentaries: Spirit of Vengeance, Spirit of Adventure & Spirit of Execution; Sin & Salvation: Featurettes chronicling 40 yrs of Ghost Rider Comic Book History; Animatics.

HAVING been a lifelong fan of the Ghost Rider comic books, Nicolas Cage would seem like the perfect choice to take the lead role of its central hero Johnny Blaze. But it proves a thankless task in this soulless, effects-laden movie.

Dare-Devil director Mark Steven Johnson was always going to be faced with an uphill struggle bringing Blaze to life, especially since his transformation requires a flaming skull, hands and motorbike.

But while the special effects are mostly OK, they deprive the film of any humanity, reducing its stars to also-rans and becoming too bogged down in extravagant set pieces.

The plot follows a similar, albeit darker path to most Marvel Comic creations. In order to save his father from cancer, young motorcycle stunt rider Johnny Blaze makes a deal with the Devil (Peter Fonda’s Mephistopheles), only to find himself betrayed.

Years later, Blaze (now played by Cage) finds himself torn between the childhood sweetheart he was forced to abandon (Eva Mendes) and his responsibilities as Ghost Rider, the powerful supernatural entity he becomes at night. It’s a task made more difficult by the arrival of a new satanic nemesis (Wes Bentley).

Whereas most Marvel Comic-to-movie translations succeed by getting the balance right between action and drama (witness Spider-Man as a prime example), Ghost Rider bodges it, thereby exposing its plot as all the more ridiculous. What might have worked in comic book form, struggles to translate to the screen.

Cage works hard to create an endearing hero early on, infusing Blaze with some nicely quirky qualities such as drinking jelly bean cocktails instead of booze and listening to The Carpenters as opposed to heavy metal.

But once his transformation begins, it’s a slippery slope to relative obscurity for the actor who simply cannot impose any sort of presence upon his alter-ego.

Unlike Superman, Spider-Man or even the X-Men, once Blaze becomes Ghost Rider there’s no trace of the man beneath the skull, which means it’s all about the special effects. As a result, it’s difficult to care about the character given that so little time is invested in really discovering what makes him tick.

What’s more, his evil adversaries are similarly devoid of any real character and exist merely to dish out dodgy dialogue and perform nasty deeds. Bentley lacks the charisma of a Lex Luthor-style adversary or the conflict of a Green Goblin or Doc Ock.

Eva Mendes is typically charismatic as Cage’s love interest but struggles to become more than a damsel-in-distress, Sam Elliott is on autopilot as Blaze’s gravedigging mentor and, most disappointingly, Fonda is under-used as Mephistopheles (especially given his Easy Rider background).

But just about everyone is ill-served by Johnson’s lifeless screenplay, that exists merely to join the dots between each confrontation. What’s left is a loud, vacuous blockbuster that struggles to justify its existence from the beginning.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 1hr 59mins