There are sayings that have been around so long they get tossed into conversation and we don’t think that much about them. A saying like “The Devil is in the details” where a plan sounds simple until you begin implementing it then discover it is far more complicated than you ever thought. “Making a deal with the Devil” implies whoever you are working with doesn’t have your best interests at heart and may have goals other than yours in mind. There’s also “Selling your soul to the Devil” where you have agreed to accept help that benefits you in the short term but are obligated to repay the favor, with interest, at a later time. All these sayings could apply to this week’s movie “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.” Not just to the characters in the film but also to the people responsible for making it since it seems to be a spawn of Hell.
Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) has travelled half way around the world and is in Eastern Europe, trying to control the demon inside him that transforms him into Ghost Rider. Meanwhile, a young boy named Danny (Fergus Riordan) and his mother Nadya (Violante Placido) are being hidden in a castle-like monastery by an order of monks. One of the monks, Moreau (Idris Elba), arrives to warn them they need to move the boy and his mother to another location. Just then Ray Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth) and a group of armed men attack the monastery, trying to kidnap the pair. Nadya and Danny escape helped in part by Moreau. Moreau then hunts for Johnny Blaze to protect mother and child and get them to a safer location. Moreau explains to Blaze the boy is meant to be a vessel for the Devil who is walking the Earth in the human form of Roarke (Ciaran Hinds). The boy is a product of a deal made between Roarke and Nadya for saving her life. On the winter solstice, Roarke will transfer his power from his weak human body into the half-human, half-demon Danny, allowing the Devil full access to his power on Earth. If Blaze succeeds in protecting Danny, Moreau promises to lift the curse that turns him into the evil-soul-absorbing flaming skeleton called Ghost Rider.
I’m not sure there are words to adequately describe how bad this movie is; but horrendous is a good start. While the original “Ghost Rider” film wasn’t great, it at least didn’t assault the viewer with wiggly cameras, a tacked on 3D conversion (which is useless) and a story that makes even less sense than the original. If I had to guess, the filmmakers put the script into an industrial blender, added a cup of room-temperature water, and set it on puree. After an hour, what came out is the movie they made. I shouldn’t be surprised as Nicolas Cage has a bad track record when it comes to making very bad movies. His last five films prior to this one have been “Trespass,” “Drive Angry,” “Season of the Witch,” “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and “Kick-Ass.” Only the last one could be considered good and Cage wasn’t the star, only a supporting character.
It makes me wonder what happened to the guy who could make action blockbusters like “Con Air,” “The Rock” and the “National Treasure” films plus star in smaller quality projects like “Adaptation” and “Leaving Las Vegas.” Is he so desperate for cash to pay off his IRS tab that he’ll take anything with a decent paycheck? The one saving grace of this film for Cage is that it appears he’s not wearing an embarrassing wig. That’s about the nicest thing I can say about his performance as his acting veers from comatose to psychotic in the blink of an eye. Cage chews so much scenery there was probably on on-set dentist to pull the splinters from between his teeth. Cage’s performance is probably largely due to the directing team of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the geniuses (said with sarcasm) who gave us the “Crank” films. Those films looked like a preschooler with ADHD was given Meth. “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” looks much the same way.
Many of the same issues I had with the story of the first film are present in this one but now they are on steroids. The Devil shouldn’t have any problem wielding his power on Earth. The story of the man suspected in the 2009 disappearance of his wife who recently bludgeoned his two young sons with a hatchet then blew up the boys and himself in his rented house should be just one example of Satan’s power on Earth. The various acts of genocide throughout history, gang violence, drug and alcohol addiction and the existence of the Kardashian’s all point to the power of the Devil running rampant in our daily lives. Then there’s this: If the physical form of Satan in so weak why, over the course of human existence, hasn’t he tried to create a hybrid body before now? He gives one of his human minions the power of decay so that everything and everyone he touches rots and falls apart in seconds. Why don’t his clothes turn to powder? Why doesn’t the vehicle he drives rust away to dust? These plot holes along with choppy storytelling make the film a chore to sit through.
“Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, and language. Most of the violence is of a cartoonish nature. There are numerous instances of guns being fired, usually at Ghost Rider on whom they have no effect. Younger viewers might find the images of people suddenly rotting to be disturbing but they shouldn’t be seeing this film anyway (neither should anyone else). Foul language is widely scattered.
While most sequels are cynical money grabs, “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” seems more like a mean spirited practical joke. The filmmakers have taken a secondary Marvel character that already had a decent theatrical treatment and, with no regard for the audience, turned him into an experiment testing the bounds of what they could get away with in a movie. I suspect they looked at what was shot at the end of each day and snickered to each other about how they were really pulling one over on the studio and the numerous foreign backers who financed the production. While it may be the kind of movie that does well in Bangladesh and the Ukraine, I can’t see how it can possibly make back the $75-million investment it took to make and promote it. If it somehow manages to be a hit there won’t be any doubt the Devil’s influence in the world.
“Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” gets one unenthusiastic guitar.
A diverse line up of new films opens this week. Let’s hope the one you send me to review is a significantly better viewing experience. Vote for the next film I see and review.
Act of Valor—When a mission to recover a kidnapped CIA operative unexpectedly results in the discovery of an imminent global threat, an elite team of Navy SEALs embark on a secret operation to stop the terrorists.
Gone—A young woman who escaped from a serial killer fears her sister has been abducted by the same deranged psychopath but the police don’t believe her.
Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds—A businessman who has always done what’s expected of him discovers the possibilities along the road not taken.
Wanderlust—Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston star as a stressed out, recently unemployed urban couple who discover Elysium, Georgia. A small community populated by an eccentric cast of characters.
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film currently playing.
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.