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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Strange as it might be to hear coming from the... fingers of a person with somewhat refined taste in film, the fact remains that I dig the kind of movies that Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor make. Though they have their names on some stinkers, I thought Crank was a fun, if formulaic flick. Crank 2, on the other hand, was the single biggest "fuck you" to mainstream action movies ever. Pretty much every single stupid thing you could imagine being packed into an action movie, Crank 2 had it. And I loved every single ridiculous inch of it. So, when I heard that Neveldine/Taylor were taking on the derided Ghost Rider franchise, my ears went all perky. Ghost Rider is the kind of comic book character that these guys were made for, totally insane and over the top. Now, the first Ghost Rider movie is one of the worst comic book films I've ever seen, so there wasn't much in the way of expectations for this one. That being said, there are elements to enjoy here. They are few and far between, and even though Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance doesn't quite get a recommendation from me, it does so in a very half hearted manner.

This is me on a good day!

After accepting the fact that he can turn into a fiery demon death dealer at the drop of a hat, Johnny Blaze is sitting pretty in self imposed isolation in, where else, Eastern Europe. He's brought back into the action when a drunk monk comes to him with a proposition. Stop the devil from using a young boy as the harbinger of the apocalypse, and Blaze's curse will be lifted. What follows is whole lot of hammy acting and crazy violence. Along the way, Blaze finds himself getting attached to the kid and his absurdly hot mother, giving him more than one reason to see this thing through to the end.

Boring. So boring! The plot of this movie is so thin that to call it a plot would be an insult to plots the world over. The script only serves as a vehicle to shepherd the characters from one over the top action scene to the next. There's not even an attempt at character development or anything like that. Johnny meets the boy and his mother one minute, and the next he's willing to risk life and limb for them. And then, just like the first one, it ends rather abruptly and with no real resolution. Blah!

Nicolas Cage is Johnny. That should be all you need to hear. Truth be told, this is probably one of the better Nicolas Cage performances in a good while, but that might have to do with the fact that Cage is absolutely batshit insane in this! It's your classic, over the top, ridiculous Nicolas Cage. It's not necessarily a good performance, but it's certainly a memorable one.

And that about does it for actors. No one else really cares at all to really try in this. Idris Elba is alright as the drunk monk who sets Blaze on his course, but he's not in it enough. Ciaran Hinds is awful as the devil, and Violante Placido is eye candy and nothing else as the token female badass.

I will say that Johnny Whitworth is pretty good as the bad guy constantly hounding Blaze and Co, and when he gains some demonic powers of his own, he gets even more absurd. But it's not enough.

A classic Nic Cage face!
There's really no other way to describe it. This movie is on a lot of drugs. And when I say a lot, I mean every single kind known to man, and then a few yet undiscovered. Like the Crank films, Spirit of Vengeance is directed and shot in the most frenetic and crazy manner possible, even when there's no action. And while this does do something towards covering up the lack of anything interesting happening outside of the violence, it's also kind of nauseating. It also doesn't really fit, because while Crank was all about the main character on all kinds of drugs and stimulants, Ghost Rider is all about a brooding anti-hero, so the coked up camera man thing isn't all that appropriate.

Luckily, the action is pretty good. Now, any and all action is an immediate step up from the first installment; the first Ghost Rider is one of most the action-less superhero movies to come out in a long time. And while Spirit of Vengeance isn't as relentless as other Neveldine/Taylor movies, what action there is pretty sweet. The highlight comes at the halfway point as the Rider turns a small army into bacon bits with a huge ass crane thing, and though the finale isn't as cool, it's still well done.

That's what I really like about Neveldine/Taylor. Their camera work is all over the place and frenetic as all holy hell, but their action is always well shot, exciting, and easy to follow. This is most apparent in the finale, which sees the Rider singlehandedly taking on a heavily armored convoy. Though there are a lot of elements to consider, it's always easy to tell what's going on and where everything is in relation to everything else.

But, solid action and a ridiculous lead can only take you so far. It probably has everything to do with the Marvel brand and the PG-13 rating, but this thing is just tame for these guys. I've seen what crazy heights they will take their products to, and I'm sad to say that Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance only scratches the surface of what these guys are capable of. But, it's an improvement over the last one, to be sure, and Nicolas Cage is at his batshit best, so... whatever.

That SNL skit described this movie perfectly. It's has the two elements of a classic Nic Cage movie. Every word is either whispered or shouted, and everything is on fire! Take it or leave it, but there it is!

Also a dude pisses fire. Awesome?


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