Second 'Ghost Rider' Trip Trashy Fun
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
Alas, "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" is not my favorite Mark Neveldine/Brian Taylor film. I know, I know: Am I even supposed to have a favorite Neveldine/Taylor film? Isn't this directing and sometimes writing team supposed to be something like a couple of power drink-overdosing crassnicks whose works are the cinematic equivalent of micturating over all that is pure and true and holy? Well, I wouldn't know about that. But ever since seeing the duo's supremely vulgar and pointless "Crank 2: High Voltage," I've had a non-grudging admiration for the way these two use vulgar and pointless content as an excuse for committing all sorts of formal desecrations that constitute something actually avant-garde, as opposed to a simulation or homage to aesthetic forward-thinking, or whatnot. I know this may sound like a fancy way off saying that they're able to take a studio's money and then get away with something like murder. And that may in fact be exactly what I'm saying.
In which case, one of the problems with "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" is that they don't even try to get away with murder, as when, in "Crank 2," they reconfigured a climactic fight scene in the style of one of those Japanese "War of the Gargantuas" films, just because they felt like it. Yes, some of the backstory for this sequel to, well, "Ghost Rider" (2007) comes at you here via minimalist animation of reasonably cool design, and many individual scenes are replete with gonzo chops and off-the-wall humor. However, they don't get into anything here that fundamentally upsets the apple cart of the conventional action film-watching experience. And they commit some errors, too, most egregiously sticking to their distinctively shaky camera style in the 3-D mode, which is never really a grand idea.
Then there's the wafer-thin story line. Again, I know: To complain about a wafer-thin story line in a "Ghost Rider" sequel made by Neveldine/Taylor sounds like pushing it, but it really is wafer-thin. Get this: Essentially, Damien. Or, "The Golden Child" inverted. Here, soul-sold cyclist Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) meets a "rebel monk" played by Idris Elba who offers to lift the curse that turns him into a flaming skull dude if he protects a teenage child who may be the spawn of Satan himself! And then Johnny and the kid end up bonding a bit, which gives you some bad memories of "Terminator 2" to deal with. Ugh.
The good news is that this is in many respects more a reboot than a sequel. The whole backstory now has Ciaran Hinds in the "devil" role (stepping in for Peter Fonda, who didn't seem entirely committed to the notion of embodying evil). Also, lead actor Cage gets to embody both Blaze and his flaming skull alter ego, who was entirely animated in the first film. This change gives our man Nic an opportunity to really bring the Jekyll-and-Hyde, Strangelove-beating-down-his-own-arm cra-aaaaazy, as he attempts to stop his very uncomfortable transformations into the Ghost Rider. That is fun.
Also, the devil child has a hot mom, played by Violante Placido. Also, the secondary villain played by Johnny Whitworth starts off pretty weak -- early on he comes off like a second-tier coke dealer in a snit 'cause a bouncer denied him entrance to the Viper Room -- but once the devil gives him a new lease on life by changing him into a cross between Johnny Winter and Rob Zombie and renaming him Blackout, he's pretty badass. What more would one want? Well, actually, quite a bit, but this movie ain't got much more than that. Still, as noisesome entertainments go, it "brings" that thing we sometimes call "it."
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.