February 19, 2007

Ghost Rider

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I feel that I should preface this review by saying that I like bad movies. In fact, I will almost always prefer a truly terrible B-movie to a mediocre film. There’s an absurdist quality to such films that I find enormously entertaining; if you don’t know what I’m talking about, go rent any of Uwe Boll’s movies. I love Boll (whose oeuvre includes such masterful videogame adaptations as Alone in the Dark, House of the Dead and Bloodrayne) because I think he is literally the worst director in the world. Guaranteed, any evening with Boll and beer is a good one, especially if you enjoy supplementing a bad movie’s dialogue à la Mystery Science Theater 3000. That being said, some bad movies are just too terrible to enjoy. These are the films that leave you in a state of sickened panic, wishing you had spent your $8 on a ball peen hammer and just hit yourself for an hour and a half. Ghost Rider is such a film.

Admittedly, any movie about a professional daredevil who turns into a motorcycle-riding demon vigilante with a flaming skull for a head is going to be a bit campy. I certainly wasn’t expecting an insightful meditation on the film’s Faustian themes, but this was just awful. For those not familiar with the comic book, here’s the setup: Nicolas Cage is Johnny Blaze, a world-famous motorcycle stuntman known for such reckless feats as jumping over a column of helicopters. As a lad, Blaze sold his soul to Mephistopheles (played by motorcycle icon Peter Fonda), and now the demon is coming to collect. At night, and “in the presence of evil,” Blaze transforms into the Ghost Rider, a flaming skeletal avenger who is supposed to hunt down escapees from hell. This nightly transformation is seriously hurting his budding relationship with childhood sweetheart Roxanne (Eva Mendes, Hitch). To complicate matters, a fallen angel named Blackheart (played by Wes Bentley, the creepy kid from American Beauty) has arrived on Earth to arbitrarily murder people with CGI.

Why does this movie suck so much? One explanation is that it was written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson, who gave us the terrible adaptation of Daredevil. What Johnson did for dark martial arts films (namely, butchering the genre) he now perpetrates on white outlaw culture. The result is a crude assemblage of cowboy hokiness, biker mythology and heavy metal faux-occultism.

The acting is absolutely dreadful; Cage slips in and out of a fake Southern accent, and Mendes’s portrayal of a spunky television reporter is simply painful. Not that these actors had much of a script to work with. For instance, when Blaze’s demonic alter ego first confronts Blackheart, here’s what he says to strike fear into the ancient monster’s heart: “You’re going down!” Blackheart’s clever reply? “No, you’re going down.” It makes you want to cry.

Even more painful than these one-liners are the moments when Ghost Rider tries to offer philosophical commentary. One metaphysical absurdity stuck out: “He may have my soul,” Nick Cage says gravely, “but he doesn’t have my spirit.” As if it couldn’t get any worse, Sam Elliot follows up with this gem: “Any man that would sell his soul for love has the power to change the world.” What the hell does that even mean?

Probably the worst thing about Ghost Rider is that is isn’t even cool. I mean, I could forgive horrible dialogue, flat acting, and a contrived plot if it all led to some fun fight scenes or impressive stunts. Instead, we get yet another movie using nauseating amounts of unnatural-looking CGI to fill in for genuine entertainment. Maybe I don’t understand the economics of filmmaking, but when did CGI become cheaper than human talent?

There’s only one way to stop this madness: we need to stop supporting these movies. So please, don’t go see Ghost Rider, don’t even rent it when it comes out on DVD. If you absolutely need to see a terrible movie, get some friends and beer, and go pick up something by Uwe Boll. You won’t be disappointed.