Nicholas Cage

Next

2007

Revolution Studios

Produced by Nicholas Cage, Todd Garner, Norman Golightly, Graham King and Arne Schmidt

Directed by Lee Tamahori

Screenplay by Gary Goldman, Jonathan Hensleigh and Paul Bernbaum

Based on “The Golden Man” by Philip K. Dick

One question folks like to ask me is this golden oldie: “Have you ever seen a movie so bad that you walked out on it?”  And I’ve always answered: “No.”  And don’t think that I stay to watch a movie all the way through out of some principal that I should stay to the end of a movie so that if I trash it later on I can do it fairly.  I stay because I’ve paid my money and I’m not getting up until I’ve seen what I’ve paid for.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of movies I’ve wished I’d walked out on.  I could give you a list in two minutes flat of 25 movies I wished I’d walked out on.  And NEXT is near the top of that list. NEXT is so appallingly bad that I don’t know who I feel sorrier for: the people who see it or the people who were contractually obligated to work on this movie.  At least I hope they were contractually obligated.

Cris Johnson (Nicholas Cage) is a third rate Las Vegas magician performing under the name Frank Cadillac.  He’s not flashy enough to play the big rooms.  He mainly works the small lounges where the losers nurse their drinks while trying to figure out how to tell their wives they’ve lost the kid’s college fund shooting craps.  Cris deliberately stays under the radar because he does have a gift that is akin to real magic: he can see two minutes into his own future and tell what’s going to happen to him before it happens.  He uses this talent to rake in some extra cash at the blackjack tables until one shitty night when he finds himself preventing a robbery that hasn’t happened yet and winds up on the run from not only the Las Vegas Police Department but also FBI Special Agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore)

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Turns out that Agent Ferris knows all about the special power Cris has, apparently from studying casino videotapes and somehow she’s convinced herself that Cris can help her find and stop a band of terrorists who have a nuclear device somewhere in Los Angeles that they’re going to denote in five days. Yeah, you read that right.  Terrorists have an active nuclear device on American soil and the FBI is chasing after a Las Vegas magician instead of trying to find the bomb.  Using his ability, Cris manages to stay out of the clutches of the cops and the feds as he desperately needs to find Liz (Jessica Biel) a young woman who keeps appearing in his visions of the future.  But these visions don’t take place two minutes in the future.  They apparently take place days and even weeks ahead.  Cris wants to find her to find out why.  This leads to a scene that is actually kinda amusing and clever: using his ability to see two minutes ahead Cris can actually ‘try out’ different approaches of meeting Liz until he finds one that works.

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Now while Cris and Liz are falling in love and Agent Farris is tearing her hair out trying to catch up to Cris, the head terrorist (Thomas Kretschmann) finds out that the FBI is trying to catch Cris because they think he can help them.  In a stunning leap of logic that dazzled me beyond belief, Terrorist Number One pulls all of his people from their main objective of blowing up Los Angeles and sends them to kill Cris.  His reasoning?  Well, if the FBI thinks Cris can catch him then Cris has got to be killed at all costs.  You think the guy would do a background check or something before committing all of his people to such an action but NEXT never lets anything resembling common sense or logic get in the way of the next CGI action sequence.

Supposedly NEXT is based on a ‘novel story’ called “The Golden Man” by Philip K. Dick.  I’ve never read the story but I’d be willing to bet you my autographed copy of Clive Barker’s ‘Weaveworld’ that it bears no relation to the movie at all.  In fact, NEXT feels an awful lot like a television pilot on steroids.  It plays as if the Johnny Smith character from ‘The Dead Zone’ was the hero of ‘24’ instead of Jack Bauer.  To be honest, I think the character of Cris Johnson/Frank Cadillac to be interesting enough to sustain a television series and the ways he uses his power in the movie shows he’s a guy with brains. It’s a given that he can actually dodge bullets since he knows where a sniper is going to shoot him before the sniper pulls the trigger. And he can evade and escape his pursuers since he literally knows where they’re going to be before they do.  He can outfight just about anybody since he knows from which direction their punches are coming.  But there’s a goofy chase sequence where he orchestrates an escape that has a kind of lunatic Wile E. Coyote kind of deranged genius in the way one thing crashes over and flips something else over and causes something else to roll downhill.  There’s also a nifty scene where Cris ‘searches’ an entire ship by himself simply by running through his mind every possible route he could take through the ship and foreseeing how the multiple routes will end.

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And even though “Ghost Rider” is the better movie (although not by much) I liked Nicholas Cage’s performance in NEXT much better.  Not once in “Ghost Rider” did I buy him as a daredevil motorcycle stunt rider but here, he inhabited the skin of this character very well.  Julianne Moore walks through her performance as if she just wants to get this over with, get her check and call Paul Thomas Anderson to beg him to have a role for her in his next movie.  After seeing Jessica Biel in “The Illusionist” and being highly impressed with her in that movie I was wondering if she was truly developing into a gifted actress or if it was just the director and the material of “The Illusionist” that made her look better than she was.  After watching her in NEXT I would say that yes, her performance in “The Illusionist” was a fluke.  And Peter Falk is in the movie for all of five minutes.  If you sneeze you’ll miss him.  The director Lee Tamahori knows how to direct action as anybody who’s seen “Die Another Day” and “XXX: State Of The Union” can attest but the action sequences in NEXT all were familiar to me, as if I’d seen them before.  Especially in the last 30 minutes that play like outtakes from ‘24’.

And the ending of NEXT…I sat there in my seat for maybe a minute not believing that they actually had ended the movie the way it did.  I’m sure that the writers sat around congratulating themselves on how clever they were.  I don’t think they were clever at all.  I think they wasted my time and the time of everybody at the showing I saw it with.  I remember vividly seeing this in the theater while on vacation with my wife in Florida. I looked at some of the faces of the people leaving the theater with me and they were not happy faces at all.  That ending, combined with the silly, sloppy premise of the story and an overwhelming number of plot holes as big as craters on The Moon made for a horrendously disappointing movie.

Rated: PG-13

96 minutes

Kick-Ass

2010

Universal Pictures/Lionsgate

Directed by Matthew Vaughn

Screenplay by Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman

Produced by Adam Bohling, Brad Pitt, Tarquin Pack, David Reid, Kris Thykier and Matthew Vaughn

Based on the comic book written by Mark Millar and illustrated by John S. Romita, Jr.

Is an individual a superhero because they have powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men?  Or because they’re driven by passions, hurts and fears so spiritually painful that they have no choice but to put on a costume and seek vengeance?  Or do they have a need to help their fellow man and make the world a better place?  Maybe it’s simply because they want to KICK-ASS.

The movie KICK-ASS starts out as if it’s going to be an exploration of those themes and ideas.  Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is a perfectly ordinary New York high school teenager with typical teenager problems: he’s picked on and robbed by bullies and girls ignore him.  His major interest in life is comic books and Dave becomes obsessed with why nobody in real life has ever tried to become a superhero.  His best friends Marty (Clark Duke) and Todd (Evan Peters) tell him quite sensibly that it’s because if anybody ever did try to be a superhero in real life they’d most likely get their ass handed to them.

Despite this common sense advice, Dave throws together a costume and tries his hand at being a real life superhero.  The fact he has no powers or training in anything whatsoever does nothing to deter the plucky lad.   His first attempt has such a blackly humorous turn that even while I was laughing hysterically I was wincing.  Believe it or not, the outcome of the attempt does actually give Dave an edge of sorts in fights and he tries again, this time armed with a pair of nightsticks and being successful in fighting off three men walloping the piss out of one guy and taking quite a beating himself.  Naturally it ends up on YouTube and before you know it, New York has itself a real live superhero: Kick-Ass.

Soon, Kick-Ass has the goodwill of all New York and is a media sensation.  He’s also come to the attention of crime czar Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong) who believes its Kick-Ass who’s been stealing his drug money and killing his dealers.  The real culprits are Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) who have a personal score to settle with D’Amico and are determined to take him down by any means necessary.  Big Daddy and Hit Girl are much more suited for the superhero biz than Kick-Ass.  They’ve actually trained for this profession and are martial arts masters as well as marksmen of near superhuman accuracy.  And with the drug money they’ve been stealing from D’Amico they’re able to buy all kinds of neat toys.  They’re also conscienceless killers.

In the meantime, Dave has actually managed to begin a relationship with his dream girl, Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca) and is considering giving up being Kick-Ass as things are becoming more complicated with his being involved in the war between D’Amico and Big Daddy.  But then a new superhero arrives on the scene, Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and he’s got a hidden agenda of his own that will change the lives of everybody involved.

On the surface, KICK-ASS may resemble “Watchmen” in that the superheroes in the movie really aren’t super, if you know what I mean.  They’re more or less costumed martial artists.  Especially Kick-Ass who’s only superpower appears to be that he can survive beatings that would put professional fighters in the hospital for a month.  Especially Hit Girl who’s like a four foot tall Jet Li on crack when in combat.  But KICK-ASS has a really black and warped sense of humor it brings to the table, especially in the scenes with D’Amico and his gang.  A sense of humor that was lacking in “Watchmen”

But the sense of humor really doesn’t synch with the amazing action scenes which are extremely violent, shockingly brutal and downright vicious.  I think the movie makes the point that trying to be a real life superhero really isn’t a good idea in some of those scenes but it’s all negated by the really over-the-top final showdown which plays like a weird combination of John Woo and Wile E. Coyote.  And speaking of the final showdown I’m not entirely comfortable with the decision made by Dave/Kick-Ass.  It’s as if he throws away the values and ideals that made him want to become a superhero and therefore the movie isn’t about superheroes anymore and turns into a bloody revenge flick with costumed vigilantes.

The acting is very good in this one.  All of the actors look as if they’re having a great time with the material.  Especially Chloe Grace Moretz who walks off with the movie in her back pocket.   She’s got such acting confidence it’s awesome to watch her work.  She’s just that good.  Nicholas Cage surprisingly isn’t in the movie as much as you might think from the trailers and ads but his character is a pivotal one and the acting choice he makes while playing Big Daddy brought howls of laughter and claps of appreciation from the audience I saw the movie with.  And this is the first movie in a long time where Cage actually turns in a performance and doesn’t just fall back on doing Elvis.  Between KICK-ASS and “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” we just may be seeing a Nicholas Cage who’s starting to give a damn about his acting again.

Aaron Johnson is an actor I’m not familiar with but he brings a sweet Peter Parker-ish vibe to his character.  He is so unsuited to being a superhero it’s almost sad but there’s something about the way he continues on being Kick-Ass even after he quite graphically experiences the dangers and violence of the gig that makes you root for him anyway.  Clark Duke and Evan Peters are there strictly for comic relief and they do their jobs with intelligence, skill and as such get most of the movie’s biggest laughs.

So should you see KICK-ASS?  It’s not exactly what I would call a fun superhero movie but it is extremely well made and well acted.  It makes for a good Saturday night double feature with “Watchmen” The folks who worked on this movie didn’t insult my intelligence and I appreciate that.  Netflix and enjoy.

117 minutes

Rated R: For graphic language and violence.  And I do mean graphic with a capital G.  Just because it’s got a bunch of people jumping around in costumes and looking they’re having fun don’t think this is made for the kiddies.  This is a movie made for adults.

National Treasure

2004

Walt Disney Pictures

Directed by Jon Turtletaub
Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer
Written by Jim Kouf, Oren Aviv & Charles Segar (story)
Jim Kouf, Cormac Wibberley & Marianne Wibberley (screenplay)

I had heard a lot about NATIONAL TREASURE before I saw it. Friends of mine told me to see it because it reminded them of something that I might write. Roger Ebert just about called it an out-and-out rip off of “The DaVinci Code.”  Other people said it was boring, stupid, trite, a rip-off of this or that movie or character, mostly Indiana Jones or Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt

I saw it for myself and you know what was the most surprising thing to me about the movie was? That this was a Jerry Bruckheimer/Nicolas Cage collaboration that didn’t have any of the qualities that were evident in their other films together such as “Con Air” or “The Rock.” This is an action movie, yes. But when you compare it to what we call action movies today, it’s very modest. There is only one explosion, one car chase, one shootout and only one death and even that is due to the poor dumb bastard who gets killed making a wrong step. NATIONAL TREASURE is a movie that plays as if Cage and Bruckheimer had sat down and said: “let’s do an action movie that’s totally different from the action movies we’ve done before.” and in doing so, they’ve given today’s audience what amounts to an updated version of my beloved pulp adventure serials from the 1930’s/1940’s.

Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicholas Cage) has spent his entire life looking for a treasure that has passed from Emperors to Kings to Pharaohs and finally to The Founding Fathers of The American Government. The treasure has grown to such enormous wealth that supposedly it’s “too large for any one man or nation to own” and The Knights Templars protected it in Europe for hundreds of years until it was moved to America along with The Knights Templar who became The Freemasons. The Freemasons counted among their members such notable Founding Fathers such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Paul Revere and Benjamin Franklin who left clues scattered among the various works they left behind as to where this fabulously immense treasure could be found.

Gates has discovered that the map to where the National Treasure is located is on the back of The Declaration of Independence. What is unfortunate is that he can’t get anybody to believe him, especially The FBI or Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), who is a curator at The National Archives. When Gates tells her about the invisible map that is on the back of The Declaration of Independence and has been there for hundreds of years undetected she asks him quite seriously: “Who wrote it there? Bigfoot?”

Gates doesn’t have much time to try and change the minds of the FBI or Dr. Chase since his former partner Ian Howe has double-crossed him and intends to steal The Declaration and find the treasure. Gates decides that the only thing to do is steal The Declaration of Independence himself with the help of his brilliant tech-savvy sidekick Riley Poole and find the treasure before Ian does.

NATIONAL TREASURE has a lot going for it in the way it handles the characters and the motivations behind what they’re doing. Gates is not a treasure seeker in the conventional sense and indeed, he keeps telling people that he’s a ‘treasure protector’. He’s looking for the National Treasure to vindicate his family name since The Gates Family are looked upon as crackpots by the historical/archeological community for believing that the treasure is real. And he’s got a diverse and interesting background as shown by a scene where the FBI Agent assigned to catch Gates (played by Harvey Keitel) reads Gates’ file. Gates has degrees in a whole bunch of eclectic, eccentric academic fields, which leads Keitel to muse; “I wonder just what this guy wanted to be when he grew up.”  In fact, just seeing Harvey Keitel in a Walt Disney movie is reason enough to watch NATIONAL TREASURE.

And the relationship between Gates and his rival Ian is interesting as well. For once, the bad guy in a movie isn’t a bloodthirsty maniac out to kill everybody in his way. In fact, Ian tries to go out of his way not to kill anybody because as he sensibly explains to one of his gun happy henchmen: “The authorities tend to want to find out why dead bodies have bullets in them and who put them there.” As a matter of fact, NATIONAL TREASURE is one of the few action/adventure movies I’ve seen where the bad guy actually has good reasons for why he doesn’t kill the hero when he has a chance to, especially in a scene near the end where Ian leaves Gates and his sidekicks alive in a secret tomb underneath New York’s Wall Street. It surprised me and that’s not easy for movies nowadays to do.

I liked a lot of the performances here. Nicholas Cage looks more at home playing Benjamin Franklin Gates than any of the other characters in his other action movies he’s done with Bruckheimer and maybe that’s because Gates isn’t an Indiana Jones, despite what you may have read or heard. Gates isn’t a super martial artist or expert gunman or daredevil adventurer. He’s an historian searching for vindication of his family’s dream and he plays it that way. When he’s confronted with bad guys brandishing automatic weapons he runs like his ass is on fire and he only stops to fight when he has no other way out. What makes him dangerous is his brainpower: he sees connections and can make them faster than anybody else and he’s smart enough to know that about himself and use it to his advantage.

Sean Bean is absolutely great as Cage’s rival in the race for the treasure and you get the sense that a lot of the reasons why he doesn’t kill Gates is that he really admires and respects Gates’ knowledge and resourcefulness. Jon Voigt has a lot more to do here as Patrick Henry Gates, the father of Cage’s character than he had to do as Lara Croft’s father in “Tomb Raider” and the relationship they have here in this movie will remind you of Harrison Ford and Sean Connery in “Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade.” Justin Bartha as Riley Poole is one of the best sidekicks I’ve seen in recent moves and he has a wonderful scene where he gets to show that he knows more than Gates that proves just how much that a sidekick can enhance the hero’s character.

Now if you watch NATIONAL TREASURE, don’t expect to see an Indiana Jones type of cliffhanging-thrill a minute-claw-your-date’s-arm-type of movie. It’s more in the nature of a scavenger hunt and the fun comes from seeing Cage’s character and his sidekicks find the clues and piece them together.

Having said all that let me say that I recommend NATIONAL TREASURE wholeheartedly. I had an excellent time with the story and characters and I don’t even think you’ll miss the usual mayhem expected from a Bruckheimer/Cage action movie. Are there holes in the plot holes and flaws? Sure there are. Cage and his crew find a ship that has supposedly been buried in the Arctic ice for hundreds of years far too easily. And would gunpowder burn after being buried under the ice for that long a time? And there’s another scene later on where Cage and his crew just happen to be standing in the exact spot in the tower where The Liberty Bell is kept so that the shadow of the sun is cast at just the right moment so they can find another clue to the treasure. But by that time I had been so captivated by the performances and the sheer audacity of the story’s premise I was just watching and saying to the movie; “what the hell, let’s go.” And I suppose that’s the best way I can tell you to take your viewing of NATIONAL TREASURE: sit back in your seat with your soda, popcorn, candy and say: “what the hell, let’s go!.” We don’t have Saturday Morning Serials anymore but we do have movies like NATIONAL TREASURE to remind us of what they once were.

131 Minutes
Rated PG

Con Air

1997
Touchstone Pictures / Jerry Bruckheimer Films

Directed by Simon West

Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer

Screenplay by Scott Rosenberg

The surest sign that a movie is boring me or isn’t making sense to me is this: I start rewriting it in my mind while I’m watching it and recently I watched CON AIR for the first time since it originally hit the theatres back in 1997. I thought maybe the distance of a few years would make the movie play better and to be honest, it does. I had previously dismissed CON AIR as a typically noisy Bruckheimer production that was all about the explosions and skimped on the plot. Well, it’s still a noisy Bruckheimer production but I found that I enjoyed it far more watching it now, mainly because of the performances of a number of actors who have since become really big names in the business. Guys like John Malkovitch, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Dave Chappelle and Danny Trejo who have since blown up big time in the movie business and all who have wonderful roles in this big budget action fest. But I think that CON AIR missed the plane story wise and I’ll get into that later. For now, let’s stick with what the movie actually is about:

Cameron Poe (Nicholas Cage) is a decorated Army Ranger who returns home after serving a tour of distinguished service overseas. The Army has done some good for Cameron, made him grow up a little as he used to be a wild kid who wasn’t really bad but just had a knack of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. That knack still follows him as he gets into a fight with three drunks who were hitting on his wife Tricia (Monica Potter) and during the fight; Cameron kills one of the drunks. I guess the testimony of his wife didn’t mean a thing to the judge because Cameron is sentenced to 10 years in prison but he’s paroled out in 8 as he’s been a model prisoner, encouraged to keep his nose clean by the letters written to him by his wife and his daughter Casey (Landry Allbright)

Cameron and his cellmate Baby O (Mykelti Williamson) are placed aboard a massive transport plane that is a prison with wings nicknamed The Jailbird. Cameron’s going home and Baby O is being transferred to a minimum security prison and they’re naturally concerned when they find out that most of the other prisoners on the plane are some of the most dangerously psychotic criminals in the country, being transferred to a brand new escape proof prison: Cyrus The Virus (John Malkovitch) who is totally insane and totally brilliant. Diamond Dog (Ving Rhames) is a black militant revolutionary who wrote New York Times best selling books describing his revolutionary manifesto. Johnny 23 (Danny Trejo) is a serial rapist boasting 23 tattoos of roses on his body for each one of his victims who confides that his name should actually be Johnny 600 but it doesn’t have the same ring. Garland Green (Steve Buscemi) is a serial killer who slaughtered 37 people and drove across three states wearing the head of one of his female victims for a hat. Billy Bedlam (Nick Chinlund) caught his wife in bed with another man. He didn’t lay a finger on her. He drove four towns over to where her family lived and killed her mother, father, brothers, sister, cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, in-laws and all their pets. Pinball Parker (Dave Chappelle) is a junkie con man grifter whose joking nature hides a sick violent streak.

What we’ve got here is a collection of maniacs that have no business being together and it wasn’t surprising to me that such a collection of such brilliantly deranged minds successfully take over the plane. Cyrus has made a deal with another prisoner on the plane: a Columbian drug lord who has promised Cyrus and his crew that if they get him back to Columbia, they can live like kings, free of extradition. Now if I had written CON AIR, I’d have had the plane make it to Columbia and then have had Cyrus and crew double crossed by the Columbian drug lord and spent the rest of the movie having this deliciously goofy cast of murderers wreak bloody revenge in an orgy of mayhem and violence. Instead we get U.S. Marshal Vince Larkin (John Cusack) and DEA Agent Duncan Malloy (Colm Meaney) flying around in attack choppers trying to find The Jailbird and recapture Cyrus and crew. Cameron has his hands full trying to find insulin for Baby O who is rapidly going into shock and trying to prevent the only female guard on the plane (Rachel Ticontin) from being raped by Johnny 23.

CON AIR was one of three high-energy action movies Nicholas Cage made after winning the Academy Award for Best Actor for his work in ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ and in my opinion it’s the weakest of the three. ‘The Rock’ and ‘Face/Off’ were much better in terms of story and acting since Cage’s Cameron Poe is the least interesting character in the movie and spends most of his time trying to find insulin for his buddy as well as continually talking Cyrus and Diamond Dog out of killing a trio of prison guards being held as hostages. It isn’t until the end of the movie where The Jailbird crashes in Las Vegas where Cage goes into full-blown action hero mode and has to chase down Cyrus and Diamond Dog.

It’s the rest of the cast that walks off with the movie in terms of acting. John Cusack is always a delight in anything he does and he looks as if he’s having a great time as he and Colm Meany bicker and argue about how to deal with the situation. Few actors play a psychotic genius better than John Malkovitch and he has 90% of the good lines in the movie.  Steve Buscemi’s character makes a really cool entrance, being brought to the plane in an armored car in which he’s strapped down like Hannibal Lector with a dozen guards covering him with automatic weapons. There’s a really strange scene halfway through the movie involving Buscemi’s character and a little girl he meets in a trailer park and they have a tea party while singing “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hand” that really makes no sense and I have no idea why it’s there and it’s nowhere near as good as Buscemi’s final scene in the movie which again, reminded me of Hannibal Lector and the last scene of ‘Silence Of The Lambs’

CON AIR has some spectacular action sequences involving the giant prison plane, including the finale where it crashes on The Strip in Las Vegas and it’s one of those scenes where you have no idea how they filmed it since it’s convincing as hell but ultimately that’s all it is, one spectacular action sequence after another that have no real meaning other than spectacle for spectacle’s sake. So should you see CON AIR? If you’re an action movie junkie you most likely have seen it already. I’ve got friends of mine who claim they watch it four or five times a year but even once a year would be more than enough for me. The real entertainment value of CON AIR comes from watching Malkovitch, Rhames, Chappelle, Trejo and the other lunatics on the plane and the efforts of Cusack and Meany to capture them. The movie should have concentrated on them and cut Cage’s character out of CON AIR altogether. Now that would be a helluva ride indeed.

115 minutes
Rated R

Ghost Rider

2007
Columbia Pictures

Written and Directed by Mark Steven Johnson
Produced by Avi Arad, Michael DeLuca, Gary Foster and Steven Paul
Based on the Marvel Comics character created by Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich and Mike Ploog

When it comes to visuals, The Ghost Rider has just about every other superhero beat. He’s a leather wearing demon biker with a flaming skull riding a supernatural motorcycle on wheels of hellfire. There’s just absolutely no way you can not look at Ghost Rider and go ‘Whoa’. He’s just that cool. And the character has enjoyed a long and healthy life in comic books having first appeared back in the 1970’s. He’s been reinvented several times but the hellishly striking visual look of the character has remained fairly constant. I imagine that when the idea of a GHOST RIDER movie was pitched, the visual of the character was what sold the project. And thanks to today’s CGI technology we can have a Ghost Rider on screen that’s amazingly faithful to the look of the character. This after all is what every Ghost Rider fan on the planet wanted to see. Most every Ghost Rider fan I spoke to in person and online prior to the movie’s release said just about the same thing: “I don’t care about the story as long as they get the look right.”

There’s an old saying that one should be careful of what one wishes for because you may get it. And Ghost Rider fans did. As a story, the movie version isn’t much of a faithful adaptation. In order to do that, GHOST RIDER would have had to been a hard R movie to properly convey the supernatural/horror background of the character. But they absolutely get the visuals right and nowadays maybe that’s the best we can hope for.

The totally kickass prolog narrated by Sam Elliott recounts the history The Ghost Rider, one damned soul selected by Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda) every generation to serve as his bounty hunter. Back in the Old West, a Ghost Rider stole a contract from the town of San Venganza, all of whose citizens sold their souls into damnation. This Ghost Rider outran The Devil himself and hid both himself and the contract away. The opening itself made me wish the entire movie had been set in The Old West as we probably would have gotten something really cool. But I digress.

Cut to the modern world. Young Johnny Blaze (Matt Long) and his father Barton (Brett Cullen) are daredevil motorcycle stunt riders for a circus. Johnny’s dad is dying from lung cancer and Mephistopheles appears one night and offers Johnny a deal: sell his soul and The Devil will cure Barton Blaze’s cancer. Of course we all know the danger of making a deal with The Devil and this is no exception. Barton Blaze dies performing a stunt and consumed with grief, Johnny leaves town and his one true love Roxanne Simpson behind.

Jump to years later when Johnny Blaze (Nicholas Cage) is a world famous daredevil who is known for walking away unharmed from crashes that would have killed any other man. He encounters Roxanne (Eva Mendez) again and they pick up their relationship. Which is promptly sent into the toilet when Mephistopheles shows up and transforms Johnny into The Ghost Rider and charges him with the task of destroying his son Blackheart (Wes Bentley) who is after the Contract of San Venganza. To achieve his goal, Blackheart has enlisted the aid of three fallen angels who have taken on the aspect of Elementals of Earth, Air and Water. Of course, while everybody is after this blasted Contract it’s never really explained what either Mephistopheles or Blackheart intend to do with it once they get it. The Ghost Rider has a fight with Blackheart and his boys and afterwards ends up at a graveyard which is being tended to by The Caretaker (Sam Elliott) who seems to know just about everything about The Contract, The Ghost Rider, Blackheart…hell, he knows so much that they could just have had him narrating the first hour of the movie. It all finally comes down to The Ghost Rider having to face down Blackheart in the town of San Venganza to keep The Contract out of his hands and save Roxanne.

Okay, let’s cut to the chase here: there’s not much of a story in GHOST RIDER. It’s a pretty straightforward origin story designed to do nothing but set up a franchise and on that level it succeeds. Nicholas Cage is obviously having a good time playing Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider although I think he’s about fifteen years too old for the part. He doesn’t stretch himself trying to create deep characterization here and instead gives Johnny quirks like ‘drinking’ jelly beans from a martini glass and listening to The Carpenters before a dangerous stunt. Peter Fonda and Sam Elliott walk off with the acting honors in this one and if the movie had been set in The Old West with the two of them as the stars then that version would have been a stunner. Eva Mendez and her amazing cleavage is a lot of fun to look at even when the scenes she’s in have dull dialog.  As for Wes Bentley…if he had any kind of artistic honor and integrity he’d give back the check he got for this movie. It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen an acting job quite this poor and uninspired.

In fact, the main problem with GHOST RIDER is that the villains are so dull, bland and downright boring that there’s absolutely no suspense from start to finish. The three Elementals are literally blown away with no problem at all as The Ghost Rider simply walks right over them like they’re not there. And the final showdown with Blackheart hardly is worth sitting through the whole movie for. The writer/director of GHOST RIDER also wrote and directed “Daredevil” and I really get a sense in both movies that Mark Steve Johnson has a genuine love for these characters and wants to do them right. Especially The Ghost Rider as Johnson takes great pains to acknowledge at least four different incarnations of the character during the movie’s run time. But something just isn’t working. There was a H&R Block TV commercial featuring The Ghost Rider getting his taxes done that was more fun than this movie. “Daredevil” is the better movie but not by much. At least GHOST RIDER has the absolutely stunning visuals of the character and the equally stunning Eva Mendez to look at.

So should you see GHOST RIDER? Chances are that if you’re a fan of the character you already have and you’re happy just to have seen the demon biker on screen and couldn’t give a poobah’s pizzle what I say. As for the rest of you who haven’t seen it, it all depends on much you like superhero movies, Nicholas Cage, Peter Fonda, Sam Elliott and Eva Mendez. GHOST RIDER isn’t a bad movie. Everybody (with the notable exception of Wes Bentley) tries hard. It just isn’t a very good one either.

114 minutes
Rated PG-13

G-Force

 

2009

Walt Disney Pictures

Directed by Hoyt Yeatman

Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer

Screenplay by Cormac Wibberley and Marianne Wibberley

Based on a story by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio

 

When it comes to reviewing a movie like G-FORCE I believe that an adult reviewer is better off watching it with the age appropriate child and once the movie is over, asking them what they thought of it and would he or she recommend it to other kids their age.  Let’s face it, most of us are now too jaded or think we’re too sophisticated to appreciate what a movie like G-FORCE is supposed to be or what it’s designed to do.  It’s like when old fogies rag on Justin Bieber and say they don’t understand why he’s so popular.  Well, that’s because you’re not supposed to understand.  Unless you’re a 14 year old girl, you’ll never understand.  It’s kinda the same way with G-FORCE.  You have to be of a certain age and sensibility to appreciate a line like; “Poop in his hand!”

G-FORCE is the code name for an elite team of special FBI agents that are animals.  Their handler/trainer Ben (Zach Galifianakis) tells them they’ve been genetically enhanced which accounts for their exceptional intelligence and their ability to communicate with humans.  With the aid of customized high-tech gadgets and computers guinea pigs Darwin (Sam Rockwell) Juarez (Penelope Cruz) Blaster (Tracy Morgan) star-nosed mole Speckles (Nicholas Cage) and housefly Mooch (Dee Bradley Baker) are dedicated to protecting the country and the world.

That’s if they can pass their budgetary review which is in the hands of Ben’s supervisor Kip Killian (Will Arnett) who is…shall we say highly dubious of the effectiveness of guinea pigs as secret agents.  To prove their worth, Ben sends the team into the personal residence of home appliance magnate Leonard Saber (Billy Nighy) who is under investigation.  Thanks to their various specialties in tactics, martial arts, weapons, surveillance and computer hacking, G-Force learns of a massively sinister scheme of Saber’s that is due to go down in 29 hours.  Unfortunately, the evidence the team recovered is corrupted and they have no proof.  Killian orders the project shut down and the animals destroyed.

G-Force has no choice but to escape and go rogue in order to stop Saber’s nefarious plan and save the world.  But can they do it without their gadgets, their trainer Ben and with bumbling new recruit Hurley (Jon Favreau) screwing up the mission at every turn?

I watched this movie with my four-year old nephew Alex (actually I watched it twice because he insisted that I do so) and y’know what, it actually wasn’t as much of a chore to watch as I thought it was going to be.  I enjoyed the voice work of Sam Rockwell and Penelope Cruz, both of who sound like they’re having a blast.  Tracy Morgan’s voice work was actually intrusive as the voice was entirely too recognizable as Tracy Morgan and it’s as if he’s doing his “30 Rock” persona of Tracy Jordan voicing the character.  Much more interesting is the voice work of Jon Favreau and Nicholas Cage who give their characters unique voices totally unlike their own.  The first time I watched it I didn’t know who was doing the voices until the credits at the end of the movie and was totally surprised to read Favreau’s and Cage’s names.  Their characters sound nothing like them, which I thought was a plus.

Another plus?  The human actors, Zach Galifianakis, Will Arnett and Bill Nighy.  If I had seen just their parts in clips without the CGI guinea pigs I’d had thought they were in a straight spy movie because that’s pretty much how they play it.  The comedy is left mostly up to the rodents including Steve Buscemi as a hamster with anger management issues and three dumb mice.  And because this is, after all a Jerry Bruckheimer production we’ve got more than enough explosions and over the top action sequences.  Some of ‘em are actually quite impressive, given that the stunts are being done by CGI guinea pigs.

When the movie was over, I asked Alex what was his favorite part.  He answer; “When they were running away from the bad guys in their ballies.”  The ‘ballies’ is a high speed rapid deployment vehicle that consists of three clear spheres the G-Force agents drive that can either hook up together or operate independently.  They’re fast, computer assisted and naturally come pimped out with a whole bunch of gadgets Q would be proud of.  Alex also thought Hurley was the funniest one in the movie.  Alex’s favorite line in the movie? “Get your face outta my butt!”

I then ask Alex if he thought other kids his age would like it and he nodded enthusiastically, grinning like a maniac.  So don’t take it from me, take it from my co-reviewer Alex Cabbagestalk III.  If you’ve got kids around his age that haven’t seen it yet and you want to Netflix something appropriate for them to watch, give G-FORCE a try.  It’s clean, it’s wholesome, it’s fun and it won’t kill your brain cells if you’re required to watch it as well.  Enjoy.

88 minutes

Rated PG