Ghost Rider (2007)
Starring Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Donal Logue, Peter Fonda, Wes Bentley, Laurence Bruels, Daniel Frederiksen, Mathew Wilkinson, Brett Cullen, Matt Long, Raquel Alessi and General Thaddeus E. “Thunderbolt” Ross
Directed by Mark Steven Johnson
If you had asked me two years ago who I thought should be cast as Johnny Blaze, Ghost Rider’s stunt-cycling alter ego, Nicolas Cage would not have been high on the list of possibilities. For starters, Cage’s hair(piece) is the wrong color. True to his name, the comic book Blaze has fiery orange hair. Unfortunately, the only actor I know of whose hair even approaches orange is Carrot Top (and yes, I’m being generous with the word “actor” here). Apart from being uncommon, orange hair just isn’t going to look right outside the pages of a comic book.You might not think that hair color is all that important when it comes to casting a superhero (much less his alter ego), but ask yourself if you’d want to see Bruce Wayne as a redhead or a blond Clark Kent.
Denis Leary has what I consider to be a reasonable real-life approximation of Johnny Blaze’s hair, both in terms of color and style.When Blaze first appeared in 1972, he was definitely a product of the time, and his hair was a bit longer than Leary’s, but I still think the styles are reasonably similar. Alas, like Nicolas Cage, Denis Leary is at least fifteen years too old to play Johnny Blaze, regardless of how appropriate his coiffure might be.
Too old or not, right hair color and style or not, Nicolas Cage is Johnny Blaze on the big screen, though not right away. When Ghost Rider begins, Matt Long plays a much younger Blaze, a carnival stunt cyclist who sells his soul to Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda) in order to cure his father’s cancer. Barton Blaze (Brett Cullen) is cured, all right, but Mephistopheles arranges for the elder Blaze to die in an incredibly lame motorcycle crash the very next day. Yeah, Mephistopheles is a bit of a bastard, but that’s what you get for trucking with demons.
After his father’s death, Johnny runs away from everything, including his sweetheart, Roxann Simpson (Raquel Alessi). Blaze crashes his motorcycle at a crossroads where he meets Mephistopheles, who — apart from having a name that’s a pain in the ass to type — informs the young man that he will be called upon to serve the demon sometime in the future.
Years later, Johnny has become a world-renowned stunt cyclist and Roxann has become Eva Mendes. Roxann has also become a television reporter whose wardrobe consists almost entirely of low-cut, cleavage-revealing outfits that also happen to hug her shapely derrière. Roxann re-enters Johnny’s life as he is preparing to attempt a record-setting 300-foot motorcycle jump in a packed arena. Though Blaze does not normally give interviews, he makes an exception for his childhood sweetheart, possibly because she is enticingly back lit, wearing a very, very tight-fitting dress and just happens to pose like a runway model whenever the camera is on her.
Meanwhile, at a bar in the middle of the desert, Blackheart (Wes Bentley), the demonic son of Mephistopheles, kills a bunch of badass bikers and summons his entourage of fallen angels. Blackheart intends to retrieve a contract that the original Old West Ghost Rider stole from Mephistopheles a hundred and fifty years ago.
Mephistopheles learns of his wayward son’s plan and decides to intervene; he pays a visit to Johnny Blaze and calls forth Ghost Rider, transforming the stunt cyclist into a fiery-skulled Spirit of Vengeance and his motorcycle into a supernaturally-fast, flaming chopper.
While Ghost Rider battles Blackheart, Johnny Blaze struggles to gain control over the Spirit of Vengeance and turn his curse into a force for good. He is aided by the mysterious Caretaker (Sam Elliott), who has extensive knowledge of the Ghost Rider legend, not to mention some of the most manly facial hair ever seen in the history of motion pictures.I believe that Sam Elliott may be the only human being who could actually grow hair on his eyeballs if he wanted to. As the Caretaker, Elliott sports a beard that climbs so far up his cheekbones that it very nearly flows into his eyebrows. The Caretaker tells Johnny that if Blackheart successfully retrieves the contract of San Venganza, the demon could bring about Hell on Earth.
Ghost Rider is the rock and roll superhero movie. Nicolas Cage may not be the ideal Johnny Blaze and Eva Mendez may be little more than eye candy but when the sun sets and the Spirit of Vengeance awakens, the soundtrack cranks up to eleven and the visuals tear up the screen. The special effects are extravagant without being cheesy, the action is unapologetically over the top and there are flames everywhere.
On the incredibly arbitrary 27-point KJToo rating system, I give Ghost Rider a very respectable 22.
Rocking Out: 9
Australian rock band Spiderbait provides an excellent cover of “Ghost Riders in the Sky” that plays in one scene when the Old West Ghost Rider gallops across the desert alongside the motorcycling modern-day Ghost Rider. The song — which plays again over the ending credits — is an obvious choice for the movie, but the Spiderbait cover keeps with the hard rocking mood. At present, only the score for the movie is available on CD, but I would imagine that Spiderbait’s “Ghost Riders in the Sky” will soon be available on either a soundtrack disc for the movie or on one of the band’s future releases.
Hell’s Angels: 7
At the bar in the desert, Blackheart summons the Nephilim, three fallen angels who take the form three of the four elements: Gressil (Laurence Breuls), earth; Abigor (Mathew Wilkenson), air; and Wallow (Daniel Frederiksen), water. Each of the Nephilim is realized very nicely, and one of my favorite special effects in the movie is the ever-dripping Wallow wiping his left eye away with one finger, only to have it reappear a second later. Ghost Rider (who represents fire, the fourth element) faces the Nephilim in combat one at a time through the course of the movie. They would have scored higher if they hadn’t been so easy to defeat.
Fuego del Corazón: 6
Perhaps love makes the world go ’round, but it has an opposite effect on Ghost Rider; thanks to some painfully bad acting and a lack of chemistry between Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes, the love story sucks energy out of the movie. Any time the two strike up a conversation, it is stiff, awkward and artificial. Roxann lacks depth and consistently comes across as a pretty, pretty twit, which doesn’t do anything help build a believable love story with real impact to the plot as a whole.