Family Movie Review: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (PG-13)

GhostRiderSpiritOfVengeance ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReview

GhostRiderSpiritOfVengeance ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): whole-popcorn-kernalhalf-popcorn-kernal

MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 95 minutes

Age appropriate for: 15+. Persistent violence using guns, knives, chains, cars, and supernatural forces. Many images could disturb younger viewers, including close-ups of people disintegrating or rotting from the inside; the hero himself spends half the film as a bellowing skull monster. There’s profanity in English and a smattering of French, but no sexuality.

For all it’s flaming and flailing, the second “Ghost Rider” installment is tepid and half-baked.

By Jared Peterson

As established in the first “Ghost Rider” film, Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) is a former motorcycle daredevil who made a deal with the devil to save the life of his father.

The Bad Man, of course, threw in a catch, cursing him with the powers and job description of a twisted avenging angel. Whenever evil is near, Johnny experiences, shall we say, a slight burning sensation, and then morphs into the Ghost Rider, a fiery monster with a flaming skull poking out of his tough-guy biking leathers. This walking-biker tattoo wields a red hot chain and dispatches any sinners that wander into his path. Unfortunately, Johnny can’t control the transformations or choose whom he attacks once he’s under the spell. It’s a lonely life, and Johnny has been hiding out in Eastern Europe. But he’s lured back into action by Moreau (Idris Elba), a wine-swilling monk who claims he can lift the curse. All Johnny has to do is find and protect a young boy (Fergus Riordan) who may or may not become the Antichrist, and go a few rounds with the Devil (Ciarán Hinds) to do it.

In many ways, the “Ghost Rider” films are fitting and convenient outlets for Cage’s unique brand of weird. By now, the Oscar winner is surely aware that audiences no longer take him seriously. (And judging by the self-effacing cameo he made in a recent “Saturday Night Live” sketch, he at least seems to be developing a sense of humor about it.) So he plays up the deviled ham with abandon, punctuating his gravelly, valley-dude line readings with all the trademark tics, glares, and cackles. This is fun to watch, up to a point. But the gimmick of Cage being Cage steadily loses steam as the movie goes along.

The action sequences are loud and lengthy, and occasionally clever. Unfortunately, as with many high-concept supernatural capers, explanations are required. The details are talked out in voice-overs from Cage or by characters schooling one another on the rules of Ghost Riding and Antichristing and whatnot. These stretches of exposition feel kind of like the chatty interstitials in old video games, and it’s understandable if audience members want to right-click their way past them to get on to what passes as “the good stuff,” i.e. lots of things on fire.

These days, our superheroes are expected to be brooding men of awesome responsibility. Wisely, Cage and “Spirit of Vengeance” don’t try too hard to evoke the loneliness of cursed antihero, but neither do they really succeed at poking holes in that overly serious genre. The directing team known as Neveldine/Taylor (Mark and Brian, respectively) cut their teeth on the “Crank” films, the unifying elements of which, not including Jason Statham, were frenetic cinematography and absurd (you might even say absurdist) premises. They seem a decent choice to take on this over-the-top comics franchise, but the playfulness of their previous flicks just gets burned up by the built-in silliness of the story.