Long ago, a cowboy made a deal with the devil that turned him, at night when in the presence of evil, into a powerful demon. He was known as the Ghost Rider. More than a century later, another rider makes the same deal... this time, a stunt motorcyclist. The result, when the demon emerges, is a creature with a flaming skull for a head, riding a chopper with wheels of fire. He is the Devil’s bounty hunter.
And he’s played by Nicolas Cage! And Nic Cage may have plenty of talent, but he’s often shown poor judgement when doing genre films. There were a lot of signs that this was going to be a bad one: it was delayed, and delayed again, and then they wouldn’t screen it for critics.
But it turns out to be quite a bit of fun. It’s my kinda B movie. Full of cartoony action, with just that right level of self-importance that a comic-book story needs to have to avoid coming off as campy. Just don’t expect anything above a B level from it.
And it has screen legend Peter Fonda as Satan! The award for Best Performance As Satan In A Comic Book Movie goes to... sorry, Mr. Fonda, Peter Stormare in Constantine retains the title. By a wide margin, actually. (In fact, even Andrew Divoff in Faust: Love Of The Damned does better, if you count that role as a legitimate Satan.) Pete F. is not one of this film’s strengths.
In other roles, Eva Mendez is not all that bad as the love interest (though the emphasis on her synthetic-looking cleavage does detract somewhat), Wes Bentley is perfect creepiness as the bad guy, and Sam Elliott is, as always, riveting. (Too bad the way his role is written makes his whole presence almost pointless! The most epic visual in the whole film ends up being a complete waste that accomplishes nothing...) Nobody stands out in the rest of the cast, but every performance is serviceable.
Cage himself has moments of ripe cheese, and for that matter a distinct undertone of dairy products is noticeable throughout... but he avoids the flavor of ham. He mostly comes across as quite naturalistic, by the standards of such a role. Unfortunately, this means that when he has a big badass speech, he doesn’t really sell it in the epic B way that you might expect. It ends up coming off almost as ironic. But if you want that kind of macho bombast, any bozo could do it... but nobody else could do it Cage’s way. I think on balance his presence is a plus, despite a hint of “not the bees” when he’s getting all flamy. (And he’d clearly been hitting the gym pretty hard... a relief when some of his other recent roles have had plenty of middle aged spread.)
The motorcycle stunts are pretty well done. The other special effects range from fair to excellent. In fact, the one thing about this movie that’s legitimately awesome is the spectacle of how Ghost Rider goes about being Ghost Rider. The flaming motorcycle action is wicked cool. The quality of CGI that can be achieved in even trashy B movies these days is getting to be pretty darn impressive. (Yet they still pull elementary booboos like having the sun rise and set backwards. They filmed it in Australia and forgot to flip it for the northern hemisphere setting.) Too bad none of the baddies are even a tenth as fun, memorable, or menacing as the hero is. Even Sam Elliot’s useless character is way cooler than any of the opposing demonic types. And the audio is a disappointment; while the visuals are have some splendid moments and are generally good, to me the audibles often came off as cheap and sloppy. For instance, most of the altered voices of the inhuman characters were done lazily and ineptly.
The closing credits feature the most fucked up version ever of Stan Jones’ “Ghost Riders In The Sky”.