I’ll be the first to admit that I am one huge lazy-ass when it comes to watching movies. So if this movie review is just a tad bit late, by say, a year and half or so, well, you’ll just have to accept that I may have been doing something else for that time. Like drinking lots of alcohol in order to keep a somewhat straight face while trying to watch this frickin’ movie. I’m told I wasn’t smiling when I passed out, so we’ll take the near-constant quaffing of bourbon and bitters to dull the pain in my logic centers as a moderate success.
Besides that, hell, it’s Ghost Rider. A third string 1970’s comic character brought about to cash in on the Evel Knievel mania, dressed in a leather jacket with built-in artillery, and a flaming skull for a head portrayed by Nicholas Cage who just happens to be attempting to channel Elvis? Yeah, I think that says “Netflix” to me, regardless that Sam Elliot puts in a turn on the cast roster. What? I like Sam Elliot. He’s a distinguished older gent, scruffy, with a laconic turn of phrase and a propensity for well-timed ass kicking. He makes any movie cooler just by being in it. Well, most any movie. I don’t think shipping in dry ice by the convoy could make Ghost Rider cool. I’m all for the “shit blows up real good” school of movie-making, and I don’t need movies based on my fangirl loves to make a lot of sense (Transformers, anyone?), but even I have my limits. Three quarters of a 750ml bottle, usually.
The movie starts with a big chunk of exposition from my man Sam, who explains that Ghost Riders are Satan’s bounty hunters who hunt down evil souls at his command, cashing in on contracts and rogue demons alike, until one day a Ghost Rider decided he wasn’t gonna take it, no, he wasn’t gonna take it, he wasn’t gonna take it anymore, hightailing across the prairie with a contract worth a thousand evil souls, never to be seen again until it’s time to throw down a huge fucking plot hammer that you can see coming from a million miles away.
Our story starts out in the usual way. Boy loves girl, boy loves dad, boy loves jumping a souped-up motorcycle through huge rings of fire at a backwoods carnival. Little Johnny Blaze has got everything his little heart desires – almost. A few ticks of the clock later, boy loses girl, boy’s dad has lung cancer – shorthanded by Daddy’s constant coughing and chain-smoking of Marlboro reds, boy makes a deal with the Devil in the pale moonlight to save his pater familias. It woulda worked, except that the fine print on Ole Scratch’s contract reads like a frickin’ cell phone contract disclaimer, and Johnny boy forgot the cardinal rules of making contracts with mythical beings – for one, you need to be very, very, VERY specific, and for two, you’re still going to be screwed on the deal. Little Johnny learns the hard way, losing girl, losing dad, and wipes out the souped-up motorcycle in a lonely crossroads, just in case we didn’t have all the deal-with-the-devil symbolism spots checked off our bingo cards yet.
The years go by, and Johnny makes a name for himself as a redneck’s wet dream motorcycle stunt rider. He’s got the bikes, the girls, the huge tour bus painted all in hot rod flames and a loveable lunk hetero life partner in his jump coordinator. He’s emo in a vaguely dull way, preferring to stick to single-line comments about the meaning of life, fear, and the nature of his uncanny abilities to survive should-be fatal bike crashes. He also likes programs about monkeys. Don’t ask me why. I was starting to sing the Lancelot Link theme song and giggling at that point, reaching the “happy drunk” stage of my inevitable decline into coma.
Speaking of emo, this is about the time four overly made-up, goth-lite assholes show up to ruin Johnny’s party. Our not-at-all-fearsome foursome are supposed to be the biggest, baddest baddies that Hell can conceive, if Hell is a rec-room rave in the suburbs overseen by doting soccer moms. The worst of them all goes by the oh-so-creative and unique name of Blackheart, which while a nod to the comic, is still pretty damned lame. He’s one of the sons of Satan, but it really doesn’t help him much. Blackie likes to wear tiny black under-eye smudges over his caked-on corpse white makeup, as if he were on his way for a game of goth touch football. Which would probably be held in the parking lot of a Hot Topic and the players would flick paper footballs containing morbid poetry to one another. Whoever cuts first wins the game, but I digress.
Blackie wants to take over the Hell.com operations from Daddykins, plotting to steal the aforementioned thousand soul contract from its resting place, using it to gain more power, along with a better wardrobe and full set of Clinique. His henchies just stand around looking like a Swedish death-pop boy band that lost at Eurovision to a chick dressed like a piñata. Daddy Splitfoot gets wind of the plan, calls up his latest Ghost Rider Johnny and thus our story, thin as it is, reaches the second act. By this time, dear Johnny has reunited with the girl he lost so long ago, completed his father’s dream stunt, Sam Elliot’s cantankerous old coot has shown up to give exposition and advice, shit has blown up, Nicholas Cage has done far too much Elvis, and I’m meditating on the relative meaning of life and the processing capacity of my liver.
As we round the turn into the third act, I stopped trying to have the story make any sense, preferring to lie back on my couch cushions holding on for dear life and avoiding any open flames. The tale wraps up in the way that these things generally go, a huge set piece fight against horrible odds, won by our hero’s cunning plan to ignore everything that’s gone on in the past hour and a half, the tattered remains of the movie’s internal logic, and our baddie’s cast iron belief that things will go his way. They don’t. Boy gets girl back, says something that’s supposed to be meaningful and deep that isn’t and cue the ending that’s wide open for a sequel, should anyone be that foolhardy, or in my case, out of rehab, which should happen just in time for me to squee my head off in the screening of Iron Man 2. Because there’s no way in hell a flaming, fiery skull can in any way compete with Robert Downey Junior blowing shit up by the sheer power of awesome.