While director Mark Steven Johnson´s Daredevil was a sincere if failed attempt to accurately bring a Marvel comic to life, this cartoon version of Ghost Rider forgoes all respect for the source material and does succeed in a Schumacher-Batman kind of way. If that´s a turnoff, or if you´re in any way a fan of the original comic, you´ll do well to stay away; but if you can accept that a film about a motorcycle-riding flaming skull in leather and chains perhaps shouldn´t take itself too seriously, you may have fun here.
Young stunt motorcyclist Johnny Blaze sells his soul to the Devil (Peter Fonda) in order to save his father´s life; dad´s cancer is cured but he dies in a stunt crash (what, you can´t trust the devil these days?) and young Johnny realizes what he has gotten himself into. Flash-forward fifteen years: Blaze is now a comically sedated Nicolas Cage (having a lot of fun here), a fearless, famous, Evel Knievel-like stuntman, when the Devil comes to collect his dues. Devil´s son Blackheart (Wes Bentley) has betrayed his father, and now seeks sacred document that will give him limitless power. Or some such nonsense. In any event, Devil turns Cage into said flaming skull, orders him to stop son and cohorts, and film now delves fully into action-comedy. Sam Elliot shows up late for plot exposition, as if we cared.
Johnson must have realized he would get laughs either way, and tried to play it off as best he could. Superhero genre is one that´s usually a bit tough to take on the screen; you can argue over Batman, but I´m fairly certain this is the only way a Ghost Rider movie could have succeeded. Faithful it isn´t; but it is amusing, well played, and mostly entertaining. Only formula plot drags it down. Cage, Fonda, Elliot and Eva Mendes all know exactly what they´re starring in and have plenty of fun (though poor Wes Bentley seems to have taken this seriously). Costly production features excellent effects – especially the flaming skull, which is pulled off better than one could have expected (though at times it seems too small; or maybe Cage´s head just seems too big in comparison). For what it´s worth, film is as good, and as bad, as Schumacher´s two Batman flicks.
You should know what you´re getting into from the cast and genre here, and film follows expectations to the hilt. Hugh Grant stars as Alex Fletcher, a has-been member of a once-popular 80´s band (film begins and ends with a funny parody of a cheesy 80´s music vid, and Hugh couldn´t possibly look more out of place), who is given a chance at a comeback by current pop star who is looking to do a duet with a retro artist. Only problem: she needs a song in x amount of days, and Fletcher hasn´t been able to write anything worthwhile since the breakup of his band. Enter Drew Barrymore as a replacement flower-waterer who just might have a penchant for lyrics; you know where it goes from here. Grant and Barrymore have a wonderful, natural comedic rapport, though sexual chemistry between the two is muted. Supporting cast mostly flounders; newcomer Haley Bennett, in particular, is a total dud in the choice role of the Shakira-like pop singer. But you pays your money, and you gets what you expects; anyone inclined to see romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore in the first place shouldn´t be disappointed. Add half a star if you fit said description, and the film is still surprisingly tolerable for those averse to the rom-com genre. Plentiful 80´s references and some disturbingly catchy tunes help.
Alleged comedy is almost a complete disaster, saved only by occasionally flavorful supporting cast. Antics at a Wal-Mart-like superstore are handled with a resounding thud, with prime material to mine for comedy instead taking itself far too seriously. What might have been a wonderful send-up in the vein of Used Cars instead follows traditional rom-com formula as slacker Dane Cook attempts to win the heart of new cashier Jessica Simpson by winning coveted ‘Employee of the Month´ status. The leads are dreadful – Simpson, thankfully, has a bare minimum of dialogue, the filmmakers well aware of her inadequacies; casting a female lead with talent or charisma, however, may have served the film better. When pic wants us to take a climatic cashier checkout duel half-seriously, we know something has gone awry here. But Dax Shepard has fun as the ‘evil´ cashier, who we nevertheless root for given the options, and it´s nice to see familiar faces like Andy Dick and Harland Williams are still alive.
Also: director Gabor Csupo´s Bridge to Terabithia (showtimes | IMDb), based on the best-selling novel by Katherine Paterson, opens wide. The family-friendly adventure film will only be playing in a Czech-dubbed version on Prague screens, however.
TIP: Vratné lahve (showtimes | IMDb), the latest film from Jan Svěrák, will be playing with English subtitles on Saturday 17.3 and Sunday 18.3 at Kino Svetozor. The film has been extremely well-received by Czech critics and audiences.