March 1, 2012

Do you like this?

Bless me, readers, for I have sinned. I never intended to stray—we sinners never do. My mistake was arriving too early. Had I simply waited a few more minutes, I might have been able to hold out. I bought the right ticket. I planned on watching Liam Neeson struggle against the savages of nature for an a couple hours. I really did, I promise. But “The Grey” still started 30 minutes after my arrival and Butterfinger Bites wait for no man.

To reach the honorable film, I had to walk the length of two halls, past easier opportunities. The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish, and I must confess, I wandered. I’m not proud. I certainly knew better. I knew the first theater to left was the place where story and character go to die. My rules strictly prohibit Nicholas Cage in a heroic role.  And yet I found myself inexplicably seated front and center of a film that had no business existing. It’s as if I was drawn in against my will. I made a deliberate decision at the ticket counter. Fate plucked the strings and the vibrations came in the form of “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.”

For those not familiar, “Ghost Rider” is an example of what happens when comic book artists make drunken bets in seedy bars late at night. Johnny Blaze is a former stunt motorcyclist who makes a deal with the devil and becomes possessed by a fallen angel who punishes evil men by eating their souls. He looks like something you’d see as an example on the wall of a carnival airbrush booth—flaming skull, flaming motorcycle, leather jacket, boots, etc. While this sounds cool, and on paper it looks pretty cool, on film it just looks silly. The plot involves the devil’s son somehow. Come to think of it, so did the first “Ghost Rider” film. The difference is that this film takes place in Eastern Europe, because, why the hell not? It’s not like anyone watching this movie is really paying attention. “Ghost Rider” is thrown up against the powers of Hell, to save the world from … you know what? It doesn’t matter. This film is a contractual obligation.  

I can say that partially because of the sarcasm dripping from Nick Cage’s voice over at the beginning of the film. It sounds almost like the filmmakers took the audio from a phone conversation where Cage is reading the script treatment aloud to his wife, full of incredulity and astonishment. His performance is distinctly bi-polar. He swings wildly from detached to histrionic. I found myself laughing uproariously at many of the scenes, enjoying them in spite of the appalling writing. Having seen the film “Adaptation,” I am convinced that Cage can act with the best Hollywood has to offer. The man just can’t seem to choose good films. If “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” is any indication, there are several respectable actors with the same problem. Idris Elba (better known to fans of “The Wire” as Stringer Bell) is a major character. Christopher Lambert (“Highlander”) and Anthony Stewart Head (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) both pop up as monks for around seven minutes of combined screen time. Not to mention Ciarian Hinds, who was most recently seen in the Oscar-nominated film “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” I can’t help but wonder if the filmmakers made their own deal with the devil to make this movie.

Despite all of the things in this movie that makes it truly horrid, I didn’t feel my time was wasted. This was the funniest movie I’ve seen in months. It’s a stretch for me to call it enjoyable, but it was more than watchable because it was such a complete failure from start to finish. And I don’t have to feel bad about rewarding the filmmakers with my money, because I technically bought a ticket for a different film. That might be slightly unethical, but then so was making a “Ghost Rider” sequel. I think I’m just going to call it even.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Starring Nicolas Cage

Rated: PG-13 • 135 min.

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March 1, 2012

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