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Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012 05:27 am

Ghost Rider is mindless fun

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Some films are made with nothing but noble purposes. Their directors hope to comment on the human condition in such a way that viewers may leave the theater with keen insights about themselves or others. Still others set out to shed light on a social injustice through their work or perhaps tell the story of a significant historical figure in order to inspire viewers, planting in us a seed in the hope that our behavior might emulate that of the noble characters portrayed on screen.

Then there are movies like Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, a project that has none of these lofty ambitions in mind, if it has any at all. For those of you out there who say, “I don’t want to think when I go to the movies,” and there are plenty of you, this film was made to order. No cranial activity is required to drink in the latest adventure of the Marvel Comics hero Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage), a man who made a deal with the devil and is now cursed with being his reluctant collector of tainted souls for all eternity. It’s a heavy burden that the former motorcycle daredevil wants to be free of and he gets his chance for just that when he’s approached by Moreau (Idris Elba), a radical man of the cloth who can help him if he tracks down and protects a young boy named Danny (Fergus Riordan) whose mother (Violante Placido) also made a deal with old Scratch. Seems he’s destined to take over the devil’s reign on earth and the head demon himself (Ciaran Hinds) is in hot pursuit to collect his heir.

This is really silly stuff and impossible to defend in any way, shape or form. Yet, directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the makers of Jason Statham’s Crank films, embrace the movie’s concept and milk as much fun out of it as they possibly can. Special effects have improved greatly since 2007 when the first Rider film was released and the difference visually between the two is obvious and striking. Blaze’s appearance is more horrific and as convincing as rendering a man with a flaming skull for a head can be. Far cooler as well is his motorcycle, a flaming two-wheeled conveyance from hell with a mind of its own that perfectly compliments its rider. These effects, coupled with the directors’ manic style and the ominous color palette they adhere to results in a film that sports an intriguing look that’s consistently intriguing.

The same can be said of Cage himself. The actor has been slumming for years but be that as it may, he always brings his A-game, investing himself in bringing Blaze to life the way others tackle Hamlet. He’s a collection of manic tics, wild mannerisms and rapid eye movements as he strives to convince us there’s a demon within him struggling to get out. Not sure if he succeeds or not but I will say there’s no question in my mind that he was having a good time trying, which in and of itself is entertaining to behold.

No, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance will not inspire you to be a better person. It also doesn’t serve as a cutting edge example of modern cinema and it probably won’t change your opinion of Cage as an actor, one way or the other. However, I will say that it effectively provides 90 minutes of escapism in the best horror comic tradition. That’s a backhanded compliment to be sure, but it’s far more than I can say about a myriad of other films with far less imagination.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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