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Film rider: Grab some water, someone needs to put out 'Ghost Rider' franchise

'Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance' is dull despite special effects

February 20, 2012|By Bob Garver | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • In this film image released by Columbia Pictures, a scene is shown from "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance."
AP Photo/Columbis Pictures-SonyAP Photo/Columbis Pictures-Sony

I got some complaints a few weeks ago over my review of "Underworld: Awakening." The film was the fourth in a franchise, and I mentioned that I hadn't seen the previous three. I then proceeded to trash the film, and it remains my frontrunner for Worst of the Year.

 A few "Underworld" fans contacted me to say that I wasn't giving the film a chance, that I was joining the series in progress without the proper preparation. They had a point, maybe familiarity with the franchise would have led to a better understanding of the most recent installment. I vowed to do better next time.

"Next time" was this past weekend with the release of "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance." Once again, I was about to go see a sequel without being acquainted with the original. So I did some scrambling and watched the 2007 predecessor on Thursday before catching the new release on Friday. What I accomplished was wasting a perfectly good Thursday night in addition to Friday.

In the films, Nicholas Cage plays motorcycle stuntman Johnny Blaze. The Devil has endowed him with superpowers, including the ability to light things on fire, suck out souls and do really dangerous things with motorcycles. When he's using his powers, Johnny's head morphs into a flaming skull. Both films are surprisingly dull despite these awesome elements

The only good the first film did for me was explain how Johnny got the powers of the Rider from the Devil. He traded his soul for his father's life, which the Devil took anyway on a technicality. The Devil then had the right to use Johnny as his servant, tasking him with collecting evil souls. Johnny has since broken free of the devil's control, and is now trying to stop him at all costs.

The plot for the sequel involves the Devil (now played by Ciaran Hinds instead of Peter Fonda from the original) trying to take over the body of his son (Fergus Reardon), a boy of about 10 who isn't ready to do evil. Johnny initially tries to rescue the boy for selfish purposes, but takes a shine to him and then does so for the right reasons. He is aided by Moreau (Idris Elba), a drunken monk more interesting and worthy of his own movie than Johnny.

The special effects are a little better this time around. There's a decent sequence where Johnny's face tries to morph into the flaming skull, but keeps getting only about halfway there. Aside from that, I don't have too many compliments. Cage's hammy performance is still a distraction and the story moves along at a snail's pace. One specific problem I had was that I could never tell if Johnny was doing his soul-sucking schtick or not. Come to think of it, I don't remember him actually doing it once in the entire movie.

 The close proximity with which I saw the two films affords me the opportunity to evaluate "Ghost Rider" as a franchise. Simply put, it doesn't deserve to be one. At least not with Nicholas Cage and the sloppy action sequences. There's probably a good movie to have with the character, but we haven't gotten it after two tries. At least you can have some fun going to the theater for "Spirit of Vengeance," but to watch the original "Ghost Rider" at home is to waste your valuable time alone.

One and a Half Stars out of Five.

"Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, and language. Its running time is 95 minutes.

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