I’ll be honest; I wasn’t expecting much. Nicolas Cage as a fiery motorcycle demon who wreaks vengeance upon the wicked? I’m not buying it. Then again, the movie couldn’t possibly have been as bad as the trailer made it out to be. To tell you the truth, I really didn’t know what to expect. So what’s the real scoop? Click the pic and I’ll tell you all about it.
There are a few things you’ll need to know about me if this review is to make any sense to you. Firstly, I love fire. I don’t love it so much that I’m psychologically obsessed with starting fires, much, but if I happen across a bunch of candles, or a campfire, or that burning dumpster just down the block from my house, or that car that caught fire after those nosy, know-it-all firemen put out the dumpster which I SWEAR TO GOD I HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH, then I will stop and watch. For a long time.
“I wish I knew how to quit you.”
Secondly, I love westerns. The Good, The Bad And The Ugly is more philosophically significant, personally meaningful, and sublimely palatable to me than the Bible, the Koran, and all the writings of L. Ron Hubbard, all wrapped up with biscuit dough and bacon, fried in garlic butter, and served on an individually numbered, limited edition Star Trek collector’s plate. I really like that movie. I couldn’t tell you why, but a well told western tale is far more interesting to me than almost any other kind of story. And if it contains elements of science fiction or the supernatural, then forget about it; I’m on cloud nine. Mrs. X and I share this love, and my friends, even those like Balthazar who don’t play role-playing games, all know of my love for Deadlands, a game of supernatural Old West action and horror. Westerns simply strike a chord with me.
Third, I like movies with the Devil in them. The Devil, as most of you well know, is my very favorite actor in the world. I mean, I just worship the guy. Literally. So whenever I hear he’s got something new in the works, I get all giddy and fan-boyish, and from then on my life is just one big orgy of movie merchandise and chicken sacrifices. Call me crazy, but I would totally kill your baby and drink its blood to see the Devil in a good movie. Seriously, I would. And I will.
Presuming this movie was going to suck like consecutive tours in ‘Nam, I hadn’t bothered to find out anything about it before watching it. As a matter of fact, I hadn’t planned to watch it at all. The trailer looks like shit. But Mark and Jon decided to hit a matinée last second, and they convinced me to go. And by “convinced,” of course I really mean that they offered – and I jumped at – the option of doing something else with my Saturday other than lying in bed and trying to convince myself that masturbating to pirated pornography is a kind of a sex life. Kind of.
I hadn’t groomed previous to the call, so after I hung up I started up the shower. I have this thing about my feet being cold in the shower, so I usually run some hot water first to heat up the old claw foot. You know, ’cause cold water hurts my vagina. The reason I’m telling you this is that I typically burn those few minutes playing the guitar, and that day I decided to try my hand at “Ghost Riders In The Sky,” which is hands down one of the best American folk songs ever written. I don’t know how to play it, but I was able to figure out a good deal of it before the mirror fogged up to let me know the tub was warm.
Pictured: Chris sitting on his toilet wasting water.
I put the guitar down, lamenting that there was no way in hell this movie was going to be cool enough to actually have this song in it. I consoled myself with the fact that in what was certain to be my searing and brutal review, I could link the hell out of Secret Spain‘s incredible and encyclopedic “Ghost Riders In The Sky” page, which hosts mp3s of damn near every single recording of that song since it was written back in 14 BC. Fast forward to last Thursday when I spent all day searching for the page, only to find out that not only is the page gone, but Secret Spain’s entire site has been totally effaced from the internet, and I can’t find a single link to anyone hosting the mp3s. Its like Secret Spain was consumed by a sandstorm that lasted for a whole year… wiped clean by the wrath of God. Or the RIAA. And that really chaps my ass, because you haven’t experienced “Riders” until you’ve illegally downloaded the Johnny Cash/Willie Nelson duet. Son of a bitch!
2021 Update: This live version by The Highwaymen actually has better sound, allowing you to fully experience the awful ’90s synth horns.
The movie opened up in the single most appealing way it could have for me: fire and the Devil in the Old West. Not only that, but it was all narrated by a Sam Elliot voice over, à la the opening of The Big Lebowski. Jesus Christ! Did these guys hire a fucking psychic to poke around inside my head and figure out a way to win me over? Two minutes into this film, and I’d already been swayed from certain disgust to hopeful optimism. Sam Elliot, who should have been a damn cowboy, told a story about how the West was built on legends, and how the Devil once bought a man’s soul and cursed the poor cowpoke to be his bounty hunter. The man, Carter Slade, became the Old West’s Ghost Rider, and collected on the souls the Devil bargained for. But the Devil made a really, really good deal once, and the Rider knew that the Devil would become dangerously powerful if he got his hands on that many souls. So Slade stole the contract and rode off into the night on his fiery steed. That’s right, there are two Ghost Riders in this movie, and one of them is an immortal Devil-powered cowboy made of fire. That’s it; I surrender, Ghost Rider. You win. Five minutes in, and the movie has gone from shit-for-sure to my new religion.
The story is pretty straightforward; a hundred years or so later, stunt motorcyclist Johnny Blaze makes a similar deal with the Devil to save his father. Being the Prince Of Darkness, Mephistopheles screws him over. Johnny Blaze spends the next 20 years getting rich and famous on his bike and feeling completely empty inside because he has no idea whether he’s actually any good at what he does or if the Devil’s just keeping him alive for his own twisted purposes. Finally, when Mephistopheles needs him, he lays the curse of the Ghost Rider on Blaze, turning him into The Devil’s Bounty Hunter. I’m capitalizing that because you can hear the capitalization every time they say it. It may as well have been the subtitle of the film.
Peter fuckin’ Fonda: the only human being alive who can out-weird Jack Nicholson.
I spent a great deal of the first quarter of this movie saying to myself, “Holy shit, that’s really Peter Fonda!” He plays the Devil, and I had no idea he was in this movie. I was honestly glad to see him again, since I haven’t heard about him since the Space Ghost: Coast To Coast episode “Brilliant Number Two,” which I believe aired ten years ago. I kinda thought he was dead.
Also surprising was that Nicholas Cage played a very non-superheroic, lovable-loser character, and he and Mendes had really good chemistry. Then again, you could dunk Eva Mendes’s hot little ass in liquid xenon and there’d be chemistry. But that’s not the important thing. The important thing is that I just made a sexist joke about the chemical inertness of noble gasses, which means I need to to be put down. I’m suffering constantly, Faithful Reader. My nerdiness has reached the point where my quality of life is nil, and there isn’t a vet in the world who wouldn’t agree that its time for me to be put out of my misery. It’s the humane thing to do. Bury me in a shoe box in the back yard, near the tree where it’s pretty. I think that’s how I would’ve wanted it.
“I’m too old for this haircut.”
Eventually Blaze hooks up with Carter Slade, played by Sam Elliot, in what has to be his 4000th cowboy role. This movie’s version of the Old West Ghost Rider looks a hell of a lot different than the one in the comics, and even though I’ve never read Ghost Rider comic in my life, I’d be willing to bet hard cash that they screwed with the story as well. It doesn’t matter; Sam Elliot is phenomenal. If you searched for a hundred years, you couldn’t have found a better actor for this role. During the movie, Mark leaned over to me and said, and this is a quote, “That is the most grizzled old motherfucker I have ever seen.” It’s true; they gave Sam a white Bo Duke wig, a shovel, and some cowboy clothes, but the rest was all him. He really looked like a guy who has been carrying a curse for the last hundred years. And since he’s been in no fewer than ten billion westerns, he talked just like it, too. Since I saw Ghost Rider, I’ve talked to people that absolutely hated this movie, and even they wanted to see more Sam Elliot. I wish the whole movie had been about him. My fondest hope is that they make a prequel set entirely in the Old West, and Sam Elliot reprises his role as Carter Slade. God damn, I want to see that movie.
Despite all the goodness and omnipresent fire, there were some pretty annoying things in this movie, not the least of which was all the pointing. Maybe its something from the comics I’ve never read, but the whole pointing thing was just ridiculous and overdone. Seriously, Ghost Rider/Blaze points dramatically at an enemy approximately every 3.4 seconds, and the camera makes a big deal out of it each fucking time. If I filmed every episode of The Sci-Fi Guys so as to emphasize each and every time I played with my shirt or my goatee, I’m pretty sure the guys at they studio would just toss the DVD in the trash as soon as I handed it over. The pointing thing got old.
“I’m Larry. This is my brother Darryl. This is my other brother Darryl.”
Also, the fight scenes between Ghost Rider and Blackheart’s elementals were a complete waste of time. The elementals are these three guys, all of whom have names that I don’t remember and am not the least bit interested in researching, who embody the elements of earth, air and water. Ghost Rider has the fourth element, fire, contained within himself, which is fortunate for the audience because apparently any element except fire gives you a greasy death metal hairdo and bad posture, and makes you dress like any one of the thousand wastes of human protein from the Matrix sequels. WHY DO WARDROBE DEPARTMENTS KEEP DRESSING ACTORS LIKE THIS?! IT SHOULD BE AGAINST THE LAW!
2021 Update: Despite a string of consistent successes, Eva Mendes put her career on hold to raise her daughters, and hasn’t appeared on screen since 2014. In her own words, “As a mother now, there are many roles I won’t do. There are many subject matters that I don’t want to be involved with, so it limits my choices and I’m fine with that. I have to set an example for my girls now,” Though we’d love to see her again, The Sci-Fi Guys give a shout out to a badass mom determined to raise strong girls.
The only “threat” that really gives Ghost Rider any trouble was the air elemental, the looker there in the middle. Theirs was the most idiotic superhero fight ever filmed (except for every second of every fight in Batman And Robin and Fantastic Four). Ghost Rider can’t hit him with his chains because he’s made of air, and so he ignites the chains and whips them around, creating a tornado which pulls the guy apart. FUCKING STUPID. These were sucky villains. I remember thinking that, has we been in the same situations, I’m pretty sure that Mark, Jon, and I could have defeated them ourselves and let Ghost Rider get on with more important business. And isn’t Blackheart supposed to be a demon? Why does he look like the creepy, drug dealing kid from American Beauty?
“You’re right. I suck dick for money. Two thousand dollars – I’m that good. And you should see me fuck. I’m the best piece of ass in three states.” 2021 Update: Blackheart was played by Wes Bentley, who was, in fact, the creepy, drug dealing kid from American Beauty. It seems like this should have been a pretty easy thing to look up back in 2007, but Past Chris was often so caught up in the excitement of the writing process that he skimped on research… or skipped it altogether. Don’t worry; he doesn’t work here anymore.
In fact, except for the humor, Eva Mendes’s body, and all that lovely fire, Ghost Rider is not an exceptionally well put together movie in any way. Then again, its isn’t particularly poorly assembled either. Its just there to entertain, and in the end it turned out that was exactly what it was gonna take to make me a fan. If I wanted to see dark and disturbing I’d have watched something that takes place in Gotham City. If I wanted something with a twist ending I’d have watched The Usual Suspects or an M. Night Shamalamadingdong movie. But I wasn’t in the mood for anything too heavy. Ghost Rider was just the right blend of action and humor to win me over and honestly entertain me; it didn’t take itself too seriously, the heroes weren’t overly clever or too terribly unrealistic in the context of the story, and the special effects were not overdone. As a matter of fact, I noticed several times how real they looked. It was a very pleasant surprise.
In the end, Ghost Rider worked for me because I had something I haven’t had a the movies in a long time: fun. We don’t get a lot of fun movies anymore. Filmmakers are so intent on trying to be morally significant, emotionally meaningful, pointed, clever, edgy and impressive that they fail to make fun movies. All those things I listed are great in a movie, but some movies need to be just for fun. There’s no real social value to riding a roller coaster that scares the shit out of you at 80 mph. Its just fun, with no attachments, which is its own redeeming value. Similarly, all movies don’t need to make a point. But no one really goes to the movies to have fun anymore.
“I hurt myself today…”
Think about it; how long as it been since you’ve seen a big budget sci-fi movie that wasn’t so bogged down with goddamned seriousness that it was impossible for it to be fun? Batman Begins: a boy’s parents get shot right in front of him, so he grows up to lead a life where he is purposefully surrounded by the kind of people who murdered them at the expense of any possibility of a family or loving relationship in his adulthood. Superman Returns: a study of loss and isolation focused on a man whom is adored by an impersonal public, but whose morals and natural abilities force him into a life of loneliness and estrangement from his mother, the woman he loves, and the son he has never gotten to know. The Star Wars prequels: convoluted tale of finances and politics starring a mystical warrior who fails to help his young apprentice find a moral balance and is later forced to chop off all his limbs and burn him alive. And its not just movies, either. The recent Space Ghost comic, of all things, was morose. It was a great read, but it was fucking bleak.
Why… so… serious??
With the exception of the Star Wars prequels, which could suck start a shop vac, these were all very good pieces of entertainment which I liked a lot. But they weren’t much fun. As a matter of fact, before Ghost Rider, the last time I remember having any actual fun at a movie was Sin City. Yes, Sin City had darkness and human butchery in spades. But it reveled in it. It had revenge, murder, mutilation, and the slaughter of human life, all in mass quantities, and it made every second of it absolutely fun. That’s what I’ve been missing at the theatre lately, and even though I hadn’t really been able to pinpoint it until I started writing this article, that’s what this movie gave me, and why I liked it so much. Like Army Of Darkness, it was stupid and hokey, but it was fun.
Not only that, but I underestimated the musical director. Not only was “Ghost Riders In The Sky” in the film, it was the accompaniment to the 500-mile charge on Blackheart’s gang, the first and last time the two Ghost Riders were to ride together. Visually, this the best part of the whole movie. Audibly, too; seeing Carter Slade gallop along sheathed in fire to the accompaniment of Spiderbait’s excellent version of “Riders” actually gave me a boner. True story. I’m not allowed back at that theatre anymore.
Ghost Rider was fun. It wasn’t the best movie ever made. It probably won’t even be the best movie of the winter. But it was a decent way to relax and have a few laughs. I would’ve rated it even higher but there’s not enough Sam Elliot, and Eva Mendes won’t return my phone calls. Don’t fret it, boys; nobody’s perfect. I give Ghost Rider seven out of ten flaming Doom skulls.