Saturday, July 11, 2009

Underrated, Part 1: Ghost Rider

Ghost Rider is one of those films highly disparaged in geek circles, and we appreciate why. There are clearly faults with the movie; we'll discuss a few in a moment.

But, faults or not, we feel strongly that it has merit. Ultimately, it is the assertion of The Middle Room that a Ghost Rider film need include the following:

1. A guy with a skull for a head.
2. The aforementioned guy's head, when in skull form, should be on fire.
3. He must, at times, ride a motorcycle.

All three of these criteria were met in Ghost Rider, so why are so many geeks unhappy? Well, as we said at the top, this is not a perfect film. In fact, there are numerous mistakes and problems, many of which are connected to the villain, Blackheart, who was notably less impressive than in his original comic appearance.

In fact, with the exception of Mephistopheles, all the villains in Ghost Rider are less than inspired. Although there are some decent special effects, they are wasted on characters who have less than impressive combat strategy. For instance, if there is a force with the power to dissolve your incarnation in supernatural fire, banishing you back to the pits of hell, attacking that head-on is perhaps not the wisest course of action.

But this is a minor issue in a movie that, among other things, is not an action-adventure or a horror. It is closer related to comedy, though this only conveys a fraction of what makes the movie worthwhile.

Ultimately, the movie succeeds because of three actors: Sam Elliott, Peter Fonda, and - to a lesser extent - Nicholas Cage. We suspect the final name in this list requires some explanation. We understand that Cage is far from popular in geek circles, and that there are good reasons for this. His ties to the failed Superman Lives project of the nineties are the stories of legend. What's more, for a geek, he has a tendency to make a fool of himself in interviews and commentary tracks.

But we believe he instilled a level of humor in Ghost Rider which makes the movie fun to watch. His odd Elvis impressions, his blank stare, and even those large cocktail glasses full of jelly beans are fascinating, even on repeat viewings.

Of course, he's nothing beside Elliott and Fonda, who as the old caretaker and Mephistopheles give the movie some backbone. The director may be less than spectacular, but he manages to provide these three actors with digital toys to play with.

Could the movie have been better? Absolutely. The caretaker vanishing right before the third act is painfully anticlimactic. With a better script and villains, it could have been something exceptional. But we think it absurd that Ghost Rider is commonly listed alongside Daredevil, Catwoman, and Electra. It may be a stretch to call Ghost Rider a good movie, but we think it deserves better recognition than it's gotten.

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