Welcome to Screen Savers; where we suffer cinematic torture for your benefit! To this day, it baffles me that a film about a daredevil empowered with hellish magic causing him to become a flaming skeleton (riding a motorcycle no less) could be so utterly underwhelming. Ghost Rider had been tossed around production purgatory as far back as 1992 with actors such as Johnny Depp and Eric Bana approached to accept the role: Bana was instead chosen for the 2005 Hulk movie, so in the end everyone lost I suppose. In the end the memorable casting of Nicolas Cage was made and the film would go on to a lackluster release and largely negative reviews.
The film begins with Sam Elliot narrating the Ghost Rider’s betrayal of Mephistopheles, carrying away a contract of 1, 000 corrupt souls that would have enabled the demon lord to unleash hell on earth. So far so good. The film then sees young Johnny Blaze sell his soul to Mephistopheles in order to cure his father’s cancer, an action that proves fruitless when his father dies in a motorcycle accident. Again, Peter Fonda’s flat portrayal of a Hell Lord aside, pretty consistent. Blaze flees his hometown and his childhood sweetheart, going on to become a world famous stunt rider, albeit tormented by recurring nightmares. It seems he is on the road to recovery, reuniting with said sweetheart Roxanne (Eva Mendes) and arranging a date. Ultimately, he is roused into action by Mephisto against his son Blackheart, who is attempting to find the lost contract of San Venganza. After battling Blackheart’s cohorts for about 30 minutes, during which time Roxanne is kidnapped by Blackheart, Blaze recieves the contract from cemetery caretaker (Sam Elliot) who is revealed to be the Ghost Rider who fled with the contract. The two then ride to San Venganza in a montage that can only be described as badass. I mean, look at it!
However, once they arrive, Elliot explains that he put all of his strength into the last ride and accompany Blaze no further, suddenly leaving….More on that later; in any case Blaze confronts Blackheart, subdues him and resists Mephisto’s attempt to remove the Spirit of Vengeance. The film closes with Blaze’s promise to remain the Spirit of Vengeance, using the powers of hell to protect the innocent.
So where does the film go wrong? Firstly, let’s look at the characters. Nicolas Cage, a life long Ghost Rider fan, received the role after numerous others walked off the project. Despite being a walking parody, Cage (National Treasure aside) was still going fairly strong in his career with the recent success of Lord of War under his belt. However, he just simply isn’t right for the part. Already 43 by the time of production, Cage lacks the undeniably bad-boy element that Johnny Blaze brings to the table. Furthermore, Cage’s unusual style and sense of humour has certainly served him well in other projects, but I still maintain Johnny Blaze eating jelly beans out of a wine glass while laughing at a chimpanzee on television goes beyond unfunny to outright bizarre. In fact, for all the over the top antics he is known for, Cage remains surprisingly deadpan for the majority of the film, which occasionally provides comic relief but mostly gives the impression that he simply doesn’t care most of the time. The same can equally said of Wes Bentley as Darkheart, who monologues his way through most scenes. Not that I noticed most of his dialogue: I was distracted by his eerily plastic looking hair.
The love story between Johnny and Rozanne feels incredibly forced, the visuals in flashback sequences featuring rather cliched wide-panning shots of corn fields as the two discuss their future alongside a tree with their initials carved upon it within a love heart. Their reunion years later seems rather stilted initially, only to become rather creepy as Blaze follows her along the motorway on his motorcycle, convincing her camera man to halt the car so he can demand a date. In any case, Blaze ultimately abandons her a second time in a convoluted attempt on the part of the writers to leave the franchise open for a sequel.
The writing is a menagerie of plot holes: why does Darkheart choose now to look for the contract, why doesn’t the Caretaker wait until the final battle to use his Rider powers, why don’t hallowed ground and holy artifacts affect the fallen? The villains are uninspiring and Blackheart’s defeat is predictable as it is abrupt. I could even forgive this if the film could just settle on a tone and stick with it. A good example is Roxanne waiting for Johnny at the dinner date. Concerned at Johnny’s absence, she takes a Magic-8 Ball out of her purse to check her luck. That’s ultimately the largest flaw with the movie: it seems to have little awareness to how or when to transition between the dramatic and the comic, appearing blatantly silly the majority of the time. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!