If ever there was a match seemingly made in neo-grindhouse heaven, it would be a collaboration between directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the guys behind the exhilaratingly all-bets-are-off “Crank” franchise, and actor Nicolas Cage, a man determined to star in as many ludicrous B-movies as possible in a quest to make every single Academy Award voter rue the day they ever gave him an Oscar.
Sadly, the results of that collaboration are “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance,” which sees Neveldine and Taylor succumbing to the Curse of Cage, rendering what might have been a gloriously loony concept into a fairly pedestrian supernatural action flick shot in some of the less attractive corners of budget-friendly Eastern Europe.
This is a movie about a flaming skeleton that rides a motorcycle — there’s no excuse for it to be this dull.
In the previous “Ghost Rider” movie (and in the Marvel Comics that spawned it), stunt rider Johnny Blaze (Cage) became Satan’s errand boy as the result of a deal to save the life of Johnny’s dying father. (And you know how deals with the devil turn out.) The first movie ended with Johnny being let out of the bargain but choosing to keep his hell-born powers so that he could use them for good.
That’s just one of many plot elements that “Spirit of Vengeance” chooses to ignore. (Also absent this time around are Eva Mendes as Johnny’s true love, as well as Johnny’s affection for the music of The Carpenters.) In the sequel/reboot, Johnny wants the Ghost Rider exorcised, because he has no control over the creature and cannot stop it from taking away the souls of anyone with whom it comes into contact.
Boozy priest Moreau (Idris Elba) finds Johnny somewhere in Romania and offers to drive the Ghost Rider from his soul in exchange for Johnny finding young Danny (Fergus Riordan) and handing him over for safe-keeping. Danny and his mother Nadya (the oxymoronically-named Violante Placido) have been on the run from black-SUV-driving goons out to take the kid on behalf of the creepy Roarke (Ciarán Hinds), the guy with whom Johnny once made his dark pact. (Another switcheroo from the first movie.)
That should be enough to let the directors go buck-wild with one eye-popping chase and fight sequence after another, but the action is oddly muted. For directors best known for two movies about a guy who has to keep his heart from stopping, there’s a decided absence of adrenaline here.
Even Cage seems restrained, except for one gloriously hammy scene in which Blaze tries to keep the Ghost Rider from emerging — it’s a Jekyll-and-Hyde moment that’s insanely absurd and overdone, yes, but it winds up standing out as one of the film’s best sequences solely for not succumbing to the tameness that blankets the rest of the movie.
Usually, you can count on the slumming British actors in movies like this to bother to give a performance, but not here: Elba staggers around with a Pepe LePew-level French accent (his pronunciation of “vengeance” is pretty hilarious, granted) while Hinds does the kind of embarrassing acting usually associated with…well, Nicolas Cage.
“Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” doesn’t just fail to live up to the original “Ghost Rider” — it’s not even a very good Nicolas Cage movie. You’ll actually have a better time renting “Trespass” or “Drive Angry” instead.
And that’s saying something.