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Dustin Putman

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Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance  (2012)
1 Stars
Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor.
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Violante Placido, Fergus Riordan, Ciarán Hinds, Idris Elba, Johnny Whitworth, Spencer Wilding, Sorin Tofan, Jacek Koman, Anthony Head, Cristian Iacob, Christopher Lambert.
2012 – 95 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence, some disturbing images, and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, February 17, 2012.
Nicolas Cage (2011's "Season of the Witch") was reportedly a die-hard fan of the Marvel comic book series prior to filming 2007's "Ghost Rider," which made its hokey creative failures and scripting woes all the more unfortunate. There is no way this decidedly soft, innocuous version was what Cage envisioned at the onset of signing on, and it's only with the luck of a profitable box-office that's blessed the actor a second chance to get things right. Hence, original director Mark Steven Johnson is out, edgy, epileptic filmmakers Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (2009's "Gamer") are in, and "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" is billing itself as a reimagining rather than a sequel (methinks the studio is simply trying to cover its bases for all the naysayers out there). And how does it fare? Slightly improved in a few departments, but riddled yet again with a trashy script and groan-worthy aims at humor that don't fit in with the film's darker, grittier style. Imagine if a stock third sequel to "The Transporter" had supernatural undertones and a fiery, skull-headed, motorcycle-riding, chain-whipping hero, and you won't be far off from what "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" is like.

Years ago, Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) signed his soul over to the Devil to save his dying father's life. Ol' Scratch made him well again per their signed agreement, then killed him anyway. Now hiding out amidst the ruins of Eastern Europe while attempting to keep his demonic transformative tendencies in check, Johnny is tracked down by warrior monk Moreau (Idris Elba) and made an offer he can't refuse: retrieve a young boy named Danny (Fergus Riordan) on the run with his mother Nadya (Violante Placido) and the religious sect Moreau works for will lift his curse. It's not going to be as easy as it sounds. Danny is also being hunted by mercenaries in cahoots with Satan—in the current form of a man named Roarke (Ciarán Hinds)—who plans to transfer his essence into the child.

It takes all of five seconds to notice that "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" is a far cry from its predecessor, the sleek, varnished Hollywood look and feel of the original replaced with a scruffy, grimy, hand-held jitteriness that directors Neveldine and Taylor are becoming readily known for (they also helmed 2006's "Crank" and 2009's "Crank: High Voltage"). What was before an almost Disney-esque version of the old "selling your soul to the Devil" adage has now embraced a more horror-friendly vision, with Johnny's metamorphosis looking altogether ghastlier and the details of his burnt skull and pyrotechnic talents more artistically conceived. Interesting to note, although the visual effects are superior to the first film, its off-the-cuff shooting and setting change to a desolate, dusty Romania makes it otherwise feel like a significantly lower-budgeted picture.

Once the novelty wears off from seeing the same comic book approached so differently—and with the same lead star, to boot—the film slowly but surely crumbles like the ancient buildings surrounding its standard-issue characters. The screenplay by Scott M. Gimple, Seth Hoffman, and David S. Goyer (2009's "The Unborn") is terrible, adding no further insight into Johnny Blaze's predicaments and using most of its sparse dialogue to prattle off exposition and out-of-place wisecracks. When Johnny discovers that Nadya once agreed to have Roarke's child—that would be Danny—in exchange for saving her life, Johnny quips, "So you're the Devil's baby mama?" In another scene, a direct dig at Jerry Springer is just plain bizarre, as if it was carried over from a script written in the mid'-'90s. So help me, Johnny even makes a "road kill" joke after running over a bad guy.

Although "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" might be closer to what Nicolas Cage had in mind from the start with this comic book property, it's still just not a very good adaptation. At 95 minutes, the movie runs out of steam before the first hour is up, becoming an endurance test of incomprehensible quick edits and plainly predictable plot turns as the poorly rendered action and fight sequences give away how empty-headed the whole mess truly is. The means of defeating Roarke also doesn't make a lick of sense. By sending him to hell, isn't Johnny basically returning him to his home so he can cook up further devious schemes? Never mind thinking about it in logical terms; directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor certainly haven't. As the title protagonist rides off into the sunset at the end, one can only hope this misbegotten franchise takes the same hint.
© 2012 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman