The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Ghost Rider (2007)

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One of the films I'd forgotten about when I first decided to do this look at bad comic book movies was Ghost Rider, starring Nicolas Cage. I remember watching At the Movies with Richard Roeper and whatever co-host he had on at the time saying that this was just one in a line of recent Cage films that weren't screened for reviewers. That struck me as odd, as it did them, because usually the films that avoid screening are the obvious stinkers like White Chicks, so for Cage's people to do that with a big budget movie based on a popular comic book that co-starred some big names, was a little suspicious.

Ghost Rider has Cage as Johnny Blaze, a young man who makes a deal with Mephisto, played by Peter Fonda, to save his dad from cancer, only to have the Devil kill said father in an accident during their bike show. Anyway, however many years later, and Cage is a famous stunt rider, trying to put the deal he made with Fonda out of his mind. Then Blackheart, played by Wes Bentley, shows up, and Fonda knows the only way he can stop his evil son is by calling in his deal with Cage, making Cage become the Ghost Rider.

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This is yet another one that could've been so good, and so wasn't. There was this sense at the beginning that they'd go with this small scale, Southwestern-style, noir-ish, supernatural legend type deal, something like "Devil Went Down to Georgia", or U-Turn. Then they hit us with the bad clichés. Oh no, Cage makes a date with his old sweetheart Eva Mendes, what's gonna happen? No Cage, don't stand her up and leave her sitting alone at the restaurant while you turn into Ghost Rider! It was hard to watch. And then every time Ghost Rider drove around, he caused tens of thousands of dollars in damage. It felt like a bad light beer commercial, where absurd doughy guys break things just to get their hands on a bottle of some. It's been a long time since I've read Ghost Rider comics, but I don't remember him turning the area around him into a disaster just by driving through. I would say, based on those issues, the critics probably would've killed it, but some, like me, might have extolled it's virtues as well, so it really should've been screened, and not screening it just tells me that the people making it really did want to amp up the mindless action aspects, and rub out the cooler Southwestern style legend aspects.

The thing is, Cage was really good. Okay, the Texas accent was bad, but everything else was good. I also think he would've preferred taking the big budget action aspect out and making it the Southwestern style urban legend. He lent a sense of quirkiness to the role the way he did with his assassin in Bangkok Dangerous, a sort of off-beat tone in the way he delivered his lines and reacted to the actors and situations around him that was different from every other comic book movie, even Robert Downey jr. in Iron Man. I read somewhere that he's really into comics, seeing them as our mythology, but Ben Affleck was really into comics too, and he didn't do anywhere near as well with Daredevil as Cage did with Ghost Rider. It's funny, because for all the times I kill Cage on here for his National Treasures and The Family Mans, the two films I've reviewed so far I both liked.

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I always liked Ghost Rider like I liked Daredevil, but for some reason, I guess the way it was marketed and with it having Nicolas Cage, I wasn't anywhere near as excited to see this as I was that. One thing I think though is Daredevil, like Ghost Rider, lends itself less to the big budget actioner approach than say a Spiderman or Iron Man. I'm not saying they don't need hi-tech special effects and green screens and whatnot to make them work, but their stories work better on a smaller scale. Less is more, I guess I'm saying. The effect of the Southwest, the carnival, the Peter Fonda as the Devil, or Sam Elliott as the former Texas Ranger, are all betrayed by the excessive destruction just because it's blockbustery, and all the cinematic clichés. I listened to some of the director's commentary, and he made some comment about how he wanted to add elements of the Southwest in it. Don't add elements, just go for it. And then he described the use of the cinematic cliché of Eve Mendes being stood up in this way to suggest it was something he wanted to incorporate without curbing the momentum of the movie. Dude, by making us suffer through such overworn territory, you killed any momentum you had for the rest of the film regardless.

One thing we discussed in our look at Hulk was how Jennifer Connelly might have been the hottest female lead in a comic book movie, but I'd have to say Eva Mendes is very close. Of course she's hot in a very different way. It's interesting too to see how the Hulk and Ghost Rider are very similar as super heroes, in how their alter egos change into them in a Jekyll and Hyde sort of way. What made Ghost Rider, and Eva Mendes in her role as the leading lady, better than Hulk and what Connelly had to work with, was how drab the latter's material was. Mendes and Cage seemed to have more fun with things, and it made for a better film, and probably made Mendes even hotter on the whole. On top of Mendes being hot, the girl that played the young Mendes, Raquel Alessi, was really hot as well. According to imdb, she was in the horror classic Uncle Sam. She would've been in her early teens at the time, which is probably why I don't remember her.

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Finally, this film employed a great supporting cast. First, Peter Fonda as Mephisto was great. I think he would've been better in a scaled down version of the movie-- this big budget thing would've worked more with a big haired Mephisto-- but he was still great. Wes Bentley as Blackheart was also cool. Again, he would've fit even better in an indie style Southwestern deal. Same can be said about Sam Elliott as the older Ghost Rider. Unlike in Hulk, where he was annoying, here he fit. Yes, everything that came out of his mouth still sounded like "Beef: it's what's for dinner" to me, but I liked it more with a cowboy hat. Finally, Donal Logue played Cage's buddy. He's usually much better doing commentary on VH-1 for their I Love the 70s series, but with Cage the two had great chemistry and he was funny in spots.

In the final analysis, this movie was killed by the need to make it a big budget Hollywood actioner. There's quality material in there worth mining, and it was pushed aside for superfluous special effects and well-worn cinematic blah. That's too bad, because the cast was good, and the film's many bright spots were overshadowed by the need to make this as much like its other big budget brethren, and in the end, none of it worked. I am curious to see if Ghost Rider 2 is better, though. Tweak it, don't reboot it. More U-Turn, less Spiderman 3.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0259324/

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