Poor direction lands ‘Ghost Rider’ in a ditch

Ally Melling

Five years ago, Nicolas Cage sold his comic book collection for $1.6 million. It’s a well-known fact that he took his last name from the comic book character Luke Cage. He even sports a flaming skull tattoo on his arm.

But even the love of a celebrity fanboy such as Cage can’t save Ghost Rider.

In the film, Cage is Johnny Blaze, a stunt-biker who sold his soul to the devil (the great Peter Fonda) in his youth to save his sick father. In return, Mephistopheles (in the comics, it’s just Mephisto) makes Johnny a “Ghost Rider,” another in a long tradition of supernatural bounty hunters (or “Spirits of Vengeance”) in his service.

It’s not until years later when Johnny becomes rich and famous and Mephistopheles’s son, Blackheart, threatens to steal an ancient scroll that the Ghost Rider in Johnny surfaces. In the darkness, Johnny becomes a flaming skeleton that can wield hellfire and destroy the wicked, both human and demon alike. With the help of a mysterious caretaker (Sam Elliot), Johnny must learn to harness the power bestowed upon him, stop Blackheart (American Beauty‘s Wes Bentley) from ruling the world and save the woman he’s loved for decades (Eva Mendes from Hitch).

It’s no secret the art of the comic-book-to-film adaptation is a tricky thing. The film either has to be a true adaptation, faithful to every little detail (Sin City), or a highly visionary, artistic take-off (Batman Begins). Ghost Rider is an unconventional Marvel hero, a do-gooder powered by hell with quite an unusual appearance. So, we can guess that it was a hard project for Ghost Rider director Mark Steven Johnson to tackle.

Ghost Rider

Starring Nicolas Cage, Wes Bentley, Eva Mendes, Peter Fonda

Directed by Mark Steven Johnson

Distributed by Columbia Pictures

Rated PG-13 for horror violence and disturbing images.

Stater rating (out of five): ? ?

But c’mon …

Upon first watch, the audience may want to blame the actors, but maybe they should blame Johnson’s far-from-stellar screenwriting instead. After all, the line up is filled with great talent. The actors clearly use all their might to deliver their mediocre, generic lines as seriously as possible. Props especially go to Elliot, who produces probably the most convincing and least cheesy character in the whole film.

The only exception is Mendes, whose acting is so bad that wardrobe tries to distract the audience by putting her in an obnoxious series of cleavage-exposing shirts.

Performances aside, there are also little details about the film that will make audience members feel like their heads are on fire. Rather than looking like a sweet demon, Blackheart looks as if he just stepped out of the local Hot Topic and only displays a fraction of his powers. The three elemental demons Ghost Rider fights are beaten without any effort at all. Cage’s weird Elvis gestures and far-fetched, shirtless scenes are also more laughable.

The only truly awesome thing about Ghost Rider is the CGI sequences of Ghost Rider transformed. Action lovers can savor Ghost Rider as he leaves flaming tire tracks in pavement and uses his magical chain to scale skyscrapers. Though the sequences are far too long, it’s also fun to see Ghost Rider use his trademark “Penance Stare” on the souls of evildoers.

Though it never reached the lows of Halle Berry’s Catwoman, it’s still not as good as 2004’s Punisher, and that’s not saying too much. So, here’s a hot heads-up: Go watch Ghost Rider to see a fiery skull fight evil on an awesome bike. Don’t go if you expect more. Either way, this film is going down in flames.

Contact ALL correspondent Ally Melling at [email protected].