There comes a moment when adapting a comic book for the screen when all those involved have to make a choice. Should there be an attempt to make a preposterous premise reasonable, or should one throw verisimilitude to the winds and just have a good time making a cheesy movie? The makers of GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE have wisely opted for the latter. As a result, they have not made a great film, but they have wrought a ridiculously entertaining bad one.
The Ghost Rider, for those not familiar with the first film that was also a guilty pleasure, or the Marvel comic from which the story is spun, is Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage), a motorcycle daredevil who made an unfortunate deal with the real devil in order to save his father. That, of course, did not work out and now Johnny turns all flamey in the face of evil just before sucking the souls out of evildoers. All evildoers, as Blaze reminds us in a somnolent voiceover, and just murderers, rapists, but also those who illegally download movies. The inconvenience of this has driven Johnny to the other side of the planet, where the tax credits for filming are conveniently at their most tempting for the filmmakers. Here he becomes embroiled in the misfortunes of stunning single-mother Nadia (Violante Placido) and her son, Danny (Fergus Riordan), the object of many plots and schemes involving Nadias ex (Johnny Whitworth), and one by the devil himself, played with brimming glee and vitriol by Ciaran Hinds. Johnny is unwillingly conscripted by Moreau (Idris Elba), an ebullient priest with a weakness for old wine and very big motorcycles, to save the boy from the devils regulation machinations that will, in turn, be very, very bad for humankind. Its all just an excuse for Johnny to burst into flames and wreak pyrotechnic mayhem, the which he does with clockwork regularity, creating tableau after tableau of wonderfully choreographed violence, expertly directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, and featuring special effects that are both terrific and terrifically executed. There is something almost poetic about the way flames undulate gracefully on the Ghost Riders skull as he bobbles his head back and forth while taking in the opposition before taking it out.
Cage has an instinctive understanding of the absurdity of both premise and story and behaves accordingly. Glassy-eyed and twitchy when not inert, he is in his own film within a film, one full of self-conscious irony and bizarre acting choices that shouldnt work, and sometimes dont, but do often enough with a humor that may or may not be intentional to make it oddly compelling. Its the sort of bad acting that is compulsively watchable precisely because it is so awful in both the modern and antique senses of that word. This is a performance of complete commitment that brooks no impediment from the others around him behaving in a more conventional fashion. Not that they are bad, Elba has his usual charisma and Hinds has a powerful presence of lurking menace, but a film that explores what happens when the Ghost Rider has to urinate while enflamed, and does so with a wink and a smile, is not to be taken seriously. Co-writer David S. Goyers wit is evident in a script that takes a worthy shot at a popular store-bought snack cake when not bogged down in cliché solstice ceremonies and chase scenes that, while nicely done, make no sense whatever in a film full of inconsistencies that violate even the internal logic of the tale.
Is GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE a good movie per se? Well, no. But it does fall into the kitschy category of so bad that its good. Does it make two hours or so zip along with the brain on hold as energetic visuals flash and serious weirdness whiz by? Oh my, but yes.