Film Flashback: Ghost Rider

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By Matt Brunson

This Friday will see the release of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, with Nicolas Cage reprising his role from 2007's Ghost Rider. Since this sequel isn't being screened in advance for critics, we offer CL's original write-up on its predecessor, which was mauled by reviewers but nevertheless earned $115 million from stateside audiences (although its $110 million budget meant it barely broke even here, with the foreign market once again having to come to the rescue). If this review reminds you exactly how much you disliked the original (after all, it's hard to find anybody who champions it), then for God's sake, do us all a favor and stay away rather than convince the studio of the need for a third GR flick starring Cage.

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Is it possible that before making the big-screen version of Ghost Rider (*1/2 out of four), writer-director Mark Steven Johnson had never even read a Ghost Rider comic book? Yes, I know as well as anyone that faithfulness to the source material is a low priority when it comes to Hollywood, whether adapting Stan Lee or Lee Child. But Johnson, whose version of Daredevil wasn't quite as bad as the press made out, here botches what would have seemed to be a fairly manageable assignment.

The comics' original Johnny Blaze wasn't a joke-a-second character like Peter Parker or The Fantastic Four's Ben Grimm. He was more somber and serious, as one would expect from a biker who sold his soul to the devil (to save the life of a loved one) and then found himself living under a curse that transformed him into a flaming-skull creature whenever in the presence of evil. Of course, when you hire Nicolas Cage to star in your movie, it's safe to assume that camp was what was intended all along.

Cage, whose best film in recent years has been the hilarious Wicker Man re-edit on YouTube (check it out here; it has the power to brighten anyone's week), falls back on the eye-popping, head-rolling overacting that has turned him into this decade's Rod Steiger. Amazingly, though, he doesn't deliver the movie's worst performance; instead, he lands in the show position, right under Eva Mendes as the somnambular love interest and the mesmerizingly awful Wes Bentley as one of the least convincing — and therefore least threatening — villains of recent vintage.

On the plus side, the special effects are pretty cool, and it was inspired to cast Peter Fonda as Mephistopheles (Easy Rider, meet Ghost Rider). Otherwise, this is yet another comic book adaptation that goes up in flames before our very eyes.

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