Sunday, March 4, 2007


Here’s a mind-boggling mystery that puts Easter Island and the Marie Celeste to shame: how the Hollywood money people could put Mark Steven Johnson in charge of another superhero film after the dreadful Daredevil.
Didn’t any of them watch that? And for that matter, didn’t Nicolas Cage?
Well, if they did and they still went happily along towards their grim fate which was Ghost Rider, then they deserve whatever may befall them, particularly bad reviews.

After a perfunctory voice over by Sam Elliott (who plays the mysterious Caretaker), we are introduced to the young Johnny Blaze (Matt Long, from TV’s Jack & Bobby), a stunt cyclist working with his father (Brett Cullen), and making googly eyes at Roxanne Simpson (Raquel Alessi).
Johnny’s plans to run away with Roxanne are curtailed when the young man discovers his father has cancer, and makes a deal with Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda): Johnny’s soul for the eradication of the cancer.
Well, M being who he is, takes away the cancer, but still screws Johnny big time, so the poor schmuck is forced to make the painful choice of staying away from Roxanne. Of course, given how these things go, he doesn’t bother to explain himself, just rides away on his motorcycle, leaving Roxanne drenched in the oh-so-dramatic pouring rain. Cad.
Years later, after Johnny has morphed into Nicolas Cage, M and Roxanne (now Eva Mendes doing her best impression of a TV reporter) both come back into his life simultaneously, while M’s son, Blackheart (Wes Bentley) is off to usurp the throne of King of the World from James Cameron.

Now, as the flaming-skull-headed Ghost Rider, Johnny has what is called “the Penance Stare,” where looking into the gaping holes where his eyes should be makes you experience all the pain your evil deeds have caused in the world, leaving you a blank-eyed husk, presumably feeling nothing at all.
One of the biggest problems I had with Ghost Rider was the fact that watching it was like being in a post-Penance Stare stupor. Nothing I saw on the screen engaged me enough to make me feel anything beyond a vague annoyance and a dim impatience to finally see the end credits start to roll.

To begin with, I am asked to accept as the protagonist a character whose personality tics (the Carpenters music, the jellybeans) are so annoyingly contrived, as to turn the character into more of a caricature than he already is. The melodramatic finger-pointing and comedic faces-in-the-mirror just make things all the worse.
On top of that, I am then asked to accept as the protagonist’s love interest, a complete cipher. This is just too much…
Given that the romance takes a sizeable chunk of screen time, I feel I should be able to see exactly why Johnny loves Roxanne, right? To get me invested. To make me see why Johnny is so torn up by the situation. To make me see why he cares so much for her. But all Roxanne is is a pretty-looking vacuum, true believers! She isn’t a character, she’s a walking plot complication.
Actually, come to think of it, I don’t see what Roxanne sees in Johnny either. (Unless of course, you’re the kind of girl who falls for the Nicolas Cage type, which is what you get here, basically. A flaming-skull-headed Nicolas Cage, decked out in spiked leather and chains.)

This is painful, people.
Seeing Peter Fonda in this kind of a movie isn’t all that surprising, really, but to see Wes Bentley here is a massive disappointment. I mean, Ricky Fitts was like a personal god to me, but Bentley is so awful here, it’s almost like it was some other actor who starred in American Beauty. Whattup, Wes?
Sam Elliott, of course, can do the cowboy archetype in his sleep, so he’s fine here, if sorely underutilized. (The final act the Caretaker does for Johnny is so irritating, you’d think twice about the character’s level of intelligence.)
Donal Logue meanwhile, has the thankless task of being the sidekick/semi-comedy relief, and is another sketched-in blur passing off as a character, who is given little more to do than try to talk Johnny out of doing the dangerous jumps, and interrupt his viewing of a martial arts monkey.

Now, if it seems I’m ripping into the actors, that isn’t entirely the case. I mean, who can blame them if the script they’re acting out is a turkey? (Well, maybe we can blame their agents, for getting them this gig…)
Johnson the director isn’t the only one with blood on his hands. The scriptwriter is one guilty culprit as well, and…
Oh. I see.
Johnson wrote the script too.

And you know what’s even more horrifying than the movie itself? Three things, actually.
One: Ghost Rider has so far grossed over $83 million dollars, the biggest movie of the year to date. Yet another mind-boggling mystery to add to the list.
Two: With that sort of money, Sony will definitely be thinking “sequel.” Oh, joy.
Three: Johnson is actively developing the Vertigo comic Preacher for HBO. (I think he’s writing the script for the pilot right now.)

Johnson has to be stopped.
Daredevil and Ghost Rider are the sort of comic book movies that make comic book movies look bad. Singer and Nolan and Raimi have fought hard to bring a certain legitimacy to the genre, and directors like Johnson and Tim Story (of Fantastic Four infamy) just piddle over all their hard work.
I don’t want to write off HBO’s Preacher before I see a single frame of it, but man, if it blows, I hope Garth Ennis rips Johnson a new one…

Marvel has to be stopped too.
I mean, they get lucky when it’s a Fantastic Four or a Ghost Rider: a bad movie that still, bizarrely, rakes in the dough.
I never thought I’d say this, but we need more Elektras! More bad Marvel movies that bomb at the box office.
Maybe then Marvel will wise up and take their time to get things right.

1 comment:

Reg said...

They just had to put in Peter Fonda because, you know, he was the ultimate biker dude in Easy Rider... :)