There is one major success in "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance": it doesn't take very long to announce that it's a bad, hilariously outlandish action flick. Though some movies can string you along for a while, two minutes into "Spirit of Vengeance" and you're already knee-deep in a nonsensical action movie of the highest order, one that is equal measures laughable and cringe-worthy. If you're going to see a movie about a guy who spontaneously bursts into flames and rides a motorcycle, you're probably not expecting Shakespeare, but "Spirit of Vengeance" has so little story that the filmmakers almost don't even bother to tell one. Mainly we get Nicolas Cage flaring into madness and special effects filling in the rest, creating a tired combination that makes for a shamelessly manufactured movie-going experience.
Even after coming out victorious in the first "Ghost Rider," Johnny Blaze still has a big problem. Though he lives a more secluded life than before, he's still terrified that his inner demon will emerge against his will, and all bets are off when that happens. While for some having an inner demon is more a figure of speech, when Johnny's demon comes out he usually ends up in the emergency room with bullet wounds. Spending the night cruising around on fire looking for vengeance will do that to you. Mainly Johnny copes by downing pain pills like they're candy and living as far away from civilization as he possibly can.
Unfortunately for Johnny, he doesn't live quite far enough away for the rest of the world, and soon he's being tested by both good and bad forces as he tries to control his alter ego, the Ghost Rider. Fresh from a shootout with the bad guys, a bizarre, motorcycle-riding priest named Moreau (Idris Elba) tracks down Johnny and instructs him that he has a way for him to save his soul. So over-the-top and strange is Moreau that even Nicolas Cage has a hard time taking him seriously, and Johnny seems as conflicted as ever.
But Johnny soon finds out that there is more at stake than his own soul, as the fate of a young boy also hangs in the balance. Through the magical powers of the Ghost Rider, Johnny stumbles upon Danny (Fergus Riordan) just as he's about to be kidnapped by a pack of uncompromising mercenaries. The mercenaries, led by Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth), are the type of dimwitted bad guys that Chuck Norris has been dispelling for years, just mindless drones that only exist to be easily killed off. With the help of the boy's mother Nadya (Violante Placido), Johnny sets out to protect Danny and bring vengeance down on all those who deserve it.
Of course, Carrigan isn't acting alone, as he takes orders from a mysterious man named Roarke (Ciarán Hinds), a purely evil genius who seems to possess some sort of secret power. Later we find out that this is because he's actually the devil, which explains why he can send telepathic signals over cell phones and turn dead guys into zombie henchmen. Even if Ciarán Hinds is a talented character actor with a strong screen presence, even he can't find a way to make Roarke anything other than a scowling bad guy as one-dimensional as he is maniacal. Like any superhero, what Ghost Rider needs more than anything else is a worthy evil counterpoint, but Roarke is a routine villain at best.
But instead of setting up the conflict and fleshing out the personas of our bad guys, "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" is much more interested in showing CGI enhanced bike tricks and our demonic hero routinely killing bad guys. When the Ghost Rider isn't screaming into the camera (for the benefit of 3D viewers), he's likely indulging one sophomoric gag or another, like when he shows Danny how much fun it is to urinate when you're on fire. For some reason, Danny doesn't find Johnny Blaze all that strange, even remarking that he's much more interesting than the guys that usually hang out with his mom.
Oddly enough, though, it's hard to imagine anyone else playing Ghost Rider besides Nicolas Cage. Usually that's a compliment, but here it's because there aren't many actors as well-known as Cage willing to go absolutely all-out for a movie as absurd as "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance." Cage is still a talented actor in the right role, but impressive performances in great movies like "Adaptation," "Bringing Out the Dead" and "Leaving Las Vegas" now seem like a long, long time ago. Of course, it doesn't help when consistently making movies that would feel silly even if aired between "Dinocroc vs. Supergator" and "Ice Spiders" on the Syfy Channel.
The winter release schedule has been more exciting than expected, as well-made and creative movies like "The Grey" and "Chronicle" have upped the ante during a time when studios typically dump their garbage before speeding into the summer. Though it's been a nice run for action-thrillers so far this winter, "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" brings us back to reality with what might end up as the worst big-budget action movie of the year. Even for the few Nicolas Cage fans left, "Spirit of Vengeance" is a rough ride.
by RTT Staff Writer
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