'Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance' ranks as worst movie in years

February 18, 2012 

Some concepts just do not translate to other media.

For my other column this week, I watched The Garbage Pail Kids Movie. (Editors: now that's good synergy!) For those of you who missed out on that '80s fad, the movie is an adaptation of trading cards featuring gross little kids. In 2D still-frame illustration, they're charming enough. The nasty little guys nobody else wants. In movie form, however, they are little people dressed up in hideously inexpressive mascot costumes who regularly pee, fart and barf all over themselves. Please stop trampling each other! There's room for everyone in the theater!

Ghost Rider doesn't do too hot, either. In comic form, the image of a dude in black leather with a flaming skull instead of a non-flaming face is pretty intimidating. On a big screen, "intimidating" is not the right word. Unless that is now a synonym for "ridiculous." Crazily enough, the guy with the flaming head might be the least silly thing about Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.

-- Local show times, theaters, trailer.

Nicolas Cage is possessed by the Ghost Rider, a vengeful demon who punishes the wicked. That's exactly why European priest Idris Elba needs his help.

A young boy is in terrible danger. He's being hunted by the agents of the devil himself. Though Cage has tried to hide from his power, he'll need every ounce of it to keep the boy safe from a sacrifice that could generally mean bad things for the world.

What follows is one of the worst movies I've seen in a couple years. Theatrically, anyway. I'm not sure even Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance can compete with the likes of The Garbage Pail Kids Movie and Eternal Gangstas, two movies so bad that watching them actually makes you a bad person.

In theory, enlisting professional garbage sculptors Neveldine/Taylor to direct a Ghost Rider sequel is a pretty good idea. In practice, their movie is a cross between Terminator 2 and a pile of crap.

The bad starts early. Elba is a nondescript priest of a nondescript religious order attacked by nondescript bad guys who really want this kid for reasons that are withheld from us because that is dramatic! Fortunately, while the story, its setting and characters have zero personality between them, the direction has plenty. And that personality is that of a living heavy metal music video that's extremely drunk on leftover Thunderbird.

The camera lurches through incoherent low angles. Action is thrown at your face with no context for who's attacking or being attacked. The dialogue is mixed so poorly that at one place an English phrase is subtitled in English. OK, so a lot of this is a stylistic choice, but you know what? It is a bad style! Even if there are good versions of this style, this is not a convincing argument that it is fun to watch.

The jokes are probably the best example. Spirit of Vengeance has several moments that are recognizable as jokes. A Twinkie proves indestructible even to the power of a mighty demon. When the kid asks Cage what he does when he has to pee, the movie cuts away, Family Guy-style, to a scene of Cage merrily whizzing away as if he has a flamethrower attached to his genitals.

The thing is, nobody laughed. People want to laugh at the movies. But it's like Neveldine/Taylor are concussed and no longer remember how to tell jokes. Wait, maybe I'm concussed. And what sounded like dead silence in the theater was actually such explosive laughter it knocked me out.

Alternately, Spirit of Vengeance just sucks a big one. It doesn't even make any sense. Cage's demonism is cured (don't worry, there's more) by lying down in a cave and screaming. Now, that's compelling work. Inspiration of divine proportions. I don't even want to get into the foolishness of this universe's internal logic because I'm afraid I might actually go insane.

Neveldine/Taylor don't bring any over-the-top fun to this. Cage barely does, either. There is nothing in Spirit of Vengeance that ever needs to be seen.

Grade: F

* Contact Ed Robertson at edwrobertson@gmail.com. His fiction is available on Kindle, Nook, and through Smashwords.

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