Monday, February 12, 2007

GHOST RIDER: Thrilling Ride

GHOST RIDER (action thriller)
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Wes Bentley and Peter Fonda
Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Time: 113 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)
Cage as Johnny Blaze
WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? The idea of the dark, brooding vigilante has been explored in many comic books and movies. “Batman Begins”, “Spider-Man” and “Hellboy” (known locally as “Super Sapiens”) are more or less based on the same theme. And “Ghost Rider”, another colourful character brought to life from the Marvel comics stable by director Mark Steven Johnson, reeks of his 2003 “Daredevil” and the 2005 “Elektra” which were largely roasted by critics and shunned by cinema-goers.
However, after sitting through the first half-hour of the movie, it is clear that Johnson has gotten his act together for this one. He has learnt from the mistakes of “Daredevil” and “Elektra” and has redeemed himself with “Ghost Rider”, a tale about a stunt rider seeking a second chance after selling his soul to the Devil. Ironically, this is also the redemptive 'second chance' for Johnson as film-maker.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT? Young Johnny Blaze (Matt Long) is a carnival motorcycle stuntman who discovers that his father (Brett Cullen) is dying of cancer. In a bid to save his dad, Johnny makes a pact with the Devil (Peter Fonda as Mephistopheles), trading his soul for the old man's health. However, something goes wrong with the deal and Johnny (now played by Nicolas Cage) is left wondering if he really has a charmed life or whether a 'guardian angel' is looking after him as he manages to survive all manner of crazy stunts.
Of course, Mephistopheles is still calling the shots and soon Johnny is transformed into the Ghost Rider, a hell-blazing vigilante on two wheels. This is all part of the Devil's plan to get Johnny to take down his power-hungry son Blackheart (Wes Bentley) who wants to usurp the Devil's throne. Blackheart soon learns about Johnny's weakness – his love for his childhood sweetheart Roxanne (Eva Mendes) who is now a TV reporter. In his battles against Blackheart and the Devil, Johnny finds an ally in the Caretaker (Sam Elliot), a mysterious guardian of a cemetery who may be holding the secret that the evil villains seek.

BOUQUETS & BRICKBATS: The plot structure, about the legend of Mephistopheles and a ledger book of souls, seems cliched and trite, even according to comic book standards. However, Johnson manages to overcome this by making Johnny Blaze human and realistic – transforming him seamlessly from motorcycle-rider to fiery vigilante. For this, we have to thank Cage whose portrayal of the vengeful protagonist is both credible and sympathetic.
The special effects, especially of skulls and other stuff bursting into flames, are fantastic and mind-boggling. But what is most important is that the technical effects are never allowed to overwhelm the narrative. Johnson keeps a fine balance between stunts and story flow and even throws in humour and wit every now and then. We can feel the energy and fun even if we can't stomach the supernatural conceits.
Also, there is chemistry in the romantic tangles between Johnny and Roxanne and they should delight the women in the audience. Mendes, as an Everywoman caught in an unbelievable mess, lends solid support although her role is not quite as demanding as Cage's. It is also amazing that the casting department has managed to find lookalikes for Cage and Mendes in Long and Raquel Alessi, respectively.

THE LOWDOWN: All in all, “Ghost Rider” is a well-made effort which should appeal to fans of the comic book as well as the casual cinema-goer seeking top class entertainment.


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