Ghost Rider (2007; Extended Cut) – Directed by Mark Steven Johnson – Starring Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Wes Bentley, Sam Elliott, Donal Logue, Brett Cullen, and Peter Fonda.
Wow, GHOST RIDER is a piece of sh*t.
It shouldn’t be. Somehow, the filmmakers managed to get both Peter Fonda and Sam Elliott to show up and chew scenery and hoodwinked $110 million out of Columbia Pictures (or Sony). The visual effects are actually pretty decent and the idea is solid enough, it’s just …
It’s like this. Watching GHOST RIDER, I have the sense that everyone involved decided to make a relatively serious film peppered with a few moments of levity to keep the movie from being unrelentingly grim, but then the morning of the first day of shooting, Nic Cage rolled in after a three week Elvis-inspired bender of friend peanut butter and banana sandwiches and decided to do his own thing.
The elements of a decent movie exist here, but much like director Mark Steven Johnson’s other superhero film, Daredevil, the final product simply never comes together.
The big problem with GHOST RIDER is the two leads: Nic Cage and Eva Mendes. Cage is so unfocused here it’s like he’s playing a different character in nearly every scene. He’s clearly going for an Elvis vibe here, but in some scenes he lays on the Tennessee accent like slow-cooked barbecue sauce and in others it’s barely there. Cage has delivered some wretched performances in some wretched movies but I tend to agree more with Roger Ebert’s defense of his acting abilities than Sean Penn’s famous dismissal of Cage that, he’s “no longer an actor.” That said, Cage is awful here. In his defense of his acting, Ebert says that Cage “always seems so earnest. However improbable his character, he never winks at the audience. He is committed to the character with every atom and plays him as if he were him.”
That is not the performance Cage gives in GHOST RIDER. In an unintended bit of meta-ness, Roxanne (Eva Mendes) even calls him on his inconsistency. After she visits his apartment and kisses Johnny Blaze, he cuts it short. She wants to know what his deal is – he pulls a crazy traffic stunt to get her to agree to dinner, then doesn’t show for it. He keeps romantic pictures of her from their time as teenagers, but then he pushes her away. Adamant that she wants an answer, Blaze gives her the truth – he’s the Devil’s Bounty Hunter.
And, of course, Roxanne doesn’t believe it.
Why should she? Cage and Johnson’s conception of Johnny Blaze is all over the place. Grimly serious one scene, goofy the next … the film really does give off a vibe that Cage was making this whole performance up as he went along.
Mendes is no better. Her performance is simply awful and the part she’s asked to play is insipid. When she gets drunk at dinner because Johnny never shows up, she asks the waiter, “Do you think I’m pretty?” and he shrugs as if to say, “Not really.” On the one hand, it’s Eva Mendes, but the waiter has been dealing with her all night and has clearly decided, “Not worth it.” Her character suffers from the same inconsistency as Blaze, but it’s made all the worse because she’s a professional reporter who acts like she’s still a silly 14-year old girl.
That’s why this film is so disappointing. When it concentrates on the Old West Ghost Rider, Carter Slade and his contemporary persona, the Caretaker (Sam Elliott), I kinda dig this film, but every time Cage or Mendes comes on screen the whole production suffers.
Watching the film here in 2012 I was honestly surprised that the film was released in 2007 because it feels like a much earlier superhero film. In my head, GHOST RIDER was a contemporary of Blade (1998), X-Men (2000), and Spider-Man (2002), not X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) and Spider-Man 3 (2007). There’s a lack of comfort with superhero films here, as Johnson feels the need to step
-by-step us through the narrative. We get a long scene depicting a young Johnny Blaze signing his contract with Mephisto (Fonda), then a long scene introducing the adult Blaze, then a long scene re-establishing the Blaze/Roxanne relationship and before you know it (I’m kidding – you’ll likely feel every single second of it), 45 minutes have gone before we get to Ghost Rider showing up in his own film.
RIDER is the kind of film that gives you a flashback to a scene that happened 15 minutes ago, and when films do that, you can pretty much guarantee they’re doing it because they think their audience is stupid.
Not wanting to use Mephisto as the main antagonist, the film brings in Blackheart (Wes Bentley) and some fallen angels, and very little of any of this works.
Unlike Catwoman, which is a complete disaster from start-to-finish, GHOST RIDER has some good moments, but all these moments really do is to reinforce how bad the rest of the film is in contrast. I like Sam Elliott and Peter Fonda well enough, and I honestly would have preferred to see GHOST RIDER done as a Western instead of a contemporary superhero piece. As it is, this film just does not work for me.