He once ate a live cockroach.
Man, everybody's giving the finger to Ghost Rider. Even critics I know who usually dig this sort of thing have been giving it the big beat-down in the Seattle Times and The Stranger. Meanwhile, the film was #1 at the box office last weekend. Take that Norbit!
Actually, the 8:00 show I caught at the Cinerama on Saturday was half-empty, so I'm not sure who's seeing it, but I quite enjoyed it. Don't get me wrong. I don't think it's Domino good, but it's no Smokin' Aces!
I can certainly see the limitations of the film. Some of the CGI is bad, Nicholas Cage's hair has this weird Hulk/Frankenstein's Monster thing going on, the supporting cast of bad-guy demons is kind of lame and the main villain, Blackheart, is so generically pretty-boy bad, that I completely blanked out and didn't realize it was Wes Bentley.
So, what's there to like? Well, we could start with that big lunk Nicholas Cage. It's been so long since he's been the lovable lug we remember from Honeymoon In Vegas and Wild At Heart, that many have forgotten how much fun he can be, but as the Guardian reminds us, he used to have a goofball aura that was irresistable:
In 1989's Vampire's Kiss, he famously demonstrated his dedication to his craft by eating a live cockroach - an incident so central to Cage lore, that, if he had dropped dead before his Oscar-winning performance in 1995's Leaving Las Vegas, his tombstone would probably have read: "Here lies Nicolas Cage. He once ate a live cockroach."
Granted, there's no "This here jacket represents a symbol of my individuality, and my belief in personal freedom" moment, but there's just enough Ripleyesque Elvis riffing to remind one why it's good to have him around. I mean, for chrissakes, he plays a guy who relaxes to a glass of jelly beans, The Carpenter's 'Superstar' and a video of chimps wrestling. Give him a break!
Next, there's the issue of character. Ghost Rider references Faust a bit, but whereas Faust sells his soul in order to gain knowledge beyond all earthly learning, Johnny Blaze seeks knowledge to relieve the damnation he was tricked into. Paradoxically, like Bill Murray stepping in front of a truck in Groundhog Day, there's a streak of fatalism that ultimately proves liberating. This doesn't exactly make him Hellboy, but it's an interesting twist that adds just enough shading to provide dimension.
Thirdly, I'd like to say something about the juxtaposition of the urban and natural, the modern and mythic and the natural and supernatural in the film's use of the Texas landscape, but the film was shot in Australia, so that would be bullshit.
Lastly, and most importantly, despite all its shortcomings, the film is basically a bunch of images of a demonic, flaming skull-guy on a motorcycle. Maybe it's the Scorpio Rising fan in me, but that right there is pretty much a movie. Then again, I was quite transfixed by Tease My Cat With A Yummy Rose on YouTube.