film | Bad to the bone
Nicolas Cage, the otherworldly hero of the garishly awful GHOST RIDER, is such a fan of the film's Marvel-Comics source that he has a tattoo of the main character on his arm. Which raises an extremely important question: Why would he attach himself to a movie that crams his beloved idol into ... well, i won't call it a bad joke. 2002's Daredevil, as directed and written by Ghost Rider director/writer Mark Steven Johnson — now, that was a bad joke. Ghost Rider, on the other hand, wishes it was noodle-headed enough to be deemed a joke. It's just plain old bad.
Remember the playground dance-fighting between Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner in Daredevil? Well, imagine the same awkwardness stripped of the holy-crap-this-can't-be-real amusement factor, and you've got a solid idea of how Johnson shoehorns ill-advised bursts of self-conscious "comedy" into material that demands a consistently dark treatment. True, i've never read the comic, but something tells me it's not so absurd that the human alter-ego of its titular badass skeleton biker grooves along with the music of the Carpenters and swills jelly beans from a martini glass when he's not commanding the flames of hades to fight an array of nasty foes by night. Watching Ghost Rider's smug stabs at crowd-pleasery, you can almost hear Johnson laud his movie as a subversive mash-up of humor and action, but calling it an unpalatable porridge of silliness and hokey computer effects would be more honest. Ghost Rider recalls Spawn (1999), another botched attempt to parlay a popular comic in which a good guy inadvertently gets recruited as a demonic emissary for Beelzebub into a film franchise. And the similarities don't stop there, mostly because I hated Spawn, too.
Cage stars as Johnny Blaze, a stunt cyclist whose backfired pact with the devil (Peter Fonda, confusing bored with evil) to save his dying papa cost him his soul, which means that Johnny morphs into a bony bounty hunter with a burning skull whenever Mephistopheles requires the aid of hired, er, muscle. Thus, after Satan Jr. (American Beauty's fantastic Wes Bentley, AWOL since 2002 and climbing aboard an extraordinarily lame comeback vehicle) riles his dad by crossing over to the mortal plane in order to nab a supernatural artifact that could trigger the apocalypse — is there any other kind? — Johnny decides to use his powers against the entire hellish patriarchy, incorporating only the occasional lull to woo his teen sweetie, now a va-va-va-voom-ish television reporter played Hitch's uncomfortably miscast Eva Mendes. in a sight-gag blunder that echoes the cringe-worthy camp moment from Batman & Robin where the Caped Crusader whips out his Bat-Mastercard, she consults a magic eight-ball (she keeps one in her purse, of course) to see if Johnny will make the fancy-restaurant date he's running late to. Uh-huh. In Ghost Rider, all signs point to groan. D