The devil’s bounty hunter in black leather on a fiery motorcycle; narration by Sam Elliott; Nick Cage as your leading man; Peter Fonda playing the devil; twenty-five years of source material to work from: What could possibly go wrong? Mark Steven Johnson — screenwriter/director/the rain which turns your favorite comics into mush in your trembling twelve-year-old hands after you’ve walked twenty-two blocks to the comic book store and waited in line behind the thirty-year-old fat guy who apparently subsists only on burritos from seven-eleven, when you know you don’t have enough allowance left to by another one, and besides if you did all they had left was Asterix comics, and who reads Asterix comics anyway except for bored ten-year-old Swedish boys who can’t get any on the longest night of the year. Johnson, you stinker.
The narration begins, and so do the problems. “Sometimes there’s a man, and I’m talking about the dude here” Wait, that was a good movie; that intro made sense. Ghost Rider, on the other hand, begins with the legend of the Ghost Rider, a cursed man doomed to act as the devil’s bounty hunter – fair enough. However, the story then digresses into the Ghost Rider acting as the devil’s collections agency – annoyingly chasing down overdue souls, interrupting you during dinner to ask if you’ve received your cable bill, reminding you that your rental movie is three days past due.
The main collection of the movie is 1,000 souls over 150 years past due (must be government-subsidized, because they are not collecting any interest (in any sense of the word). For some unexplained reason, the devil wants these; so does his son. The entire plot begs the question: How slowly is the devil collecting souls that 1,000 makes a real difference over the course of 150 years? With over 6 billion on the planet, that gives the devil a batting average of about one soul in six million. Seems like he would be better off with fewer bounty hunters and more door-to-door salesmen, or more talk radio slots.
But forget the premise (I already have): You want to see flames, choppers, and that hot chick (Eva Mendes — oh, the Mendacity) who talks like her tongue is too big for her mouth and dresses like her breasts are too big for her shirt. Well, fine, there is a skeleton on a very cool chopper whipping a fiery chain, but the illusion is broken the moment the Rider speaks. Granted, the scariest voice I’ve ever heard Nick Cage do was in Leaving Las Vegas, and that was because he reminded me of my mom, but the domo-ari-gato-mr-roboto over-synthesized voice made me anticipate, “Want fries with that?” instead of impending doom. On second thought, impending doom was all over that screen.
Which brings us to the cast of Elementals/Antagonists/Korn Tribute Band. So you have the basics — the lesser demons represent Earth, Wind, and Water; Ghost Rider is Fire; but then you have Blackheart, the main villain, who was scarier and more masculine in American Beauty, and whose power seems to be to turn people blue and suck…the life out of them. I’m not sure what element this represents. Maybe he’s ether, the great vacuum of space. That would make sense, as his character was basically a great void with no discernable substance. This lack of any internal mechanism may be why he believes that, though he is the son of the devil himself, gathering 1,000 dusty old Mexican souls will give him the power to take over hell and earth. Milton portrayed Lucifer to be the brightest of all the angels; apparently, the proverbial apple fell very far from the tree of knowledge.
But back to the first problem mentioned: Mark Steven Johnson. Never trust anyone with three names. They’re either pop tarts or serial killers, and Johnson can’t seem to pick a camp. He seems to have been so cowed to have scored Nick Cage as his leading man that he can’t break him of his bad habits. With a sneer on his lip, and a glint in his eye, he gestures to the devil to whom he’s sold his soul and drawls, “Don’t you come near me” Elvis impressions just aren’t that threatening, even to Laura Dern back in Cage’s heyday, and she’s a mere slip of a woman.
Speaking of non-sequitors, this film is filled with them. I love my father. I love my girlfriend. I don’t really care about my father, and I’m leaving. I don’t really care about my girlfriend, and I’m leaving. No, wait. The devil. I hate the devil, and I’m leaving. I really hate the devil’s son, and I love my girlfriend again. No. I’m leaving. The theatre. If Sam Elliott’s departure weren’t such a perfect metonymy for the movie itself, I really would have too. But, his beautiful meaningless ride to nowhere, only to die for no reason at all, was really the perfect synopsis for this cinematic aberration. So much promise. So little payoff.