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Ghost Rider: Extended Cut

Nicolas Cage is a serious actor. Seriously. It shouldn't have to be pointed out — after all, he's headlined offbeat films by the Coen Brothers and David Lynch. He ate a live cockroach on camera in Vampire's Kiss. He even picked up an Oscar for his turn in Leaving Las Vegas by delivering the sort of performance the Academy never ignores as a drunk, aimless, self-centered burnout who's ever-so-slightly charming. But after Vegas put Cage on Hollywood's AA-list, with a truckload of subsequent offers to play charming, Oscar-worthy boozehounds, the actor famously joined forces with Jerry Bruckheimer and delivered The Rock and Con Air in short order, as if to remind every power breakfast in Hollywood that he would prefer not to be taken quite so, er… seriously. Since then, Cage has continued looking for offbeat movies that suit his talents, but he hasn't abandoned the Bruckheimer template, and if Ghost Rider (2007) won't earn him a few hundred offers to play dudes whose heads light on fire, it's a good look at Cage's tastes when it comes to summer movies. Adapted from the Marvel Comic series by writer/director Mark Steven Johnson, Cage stars as Johnny Blaze, a daredevil Texas motorcycle rider who's built a profitable arena career for himself by leaping over things like rows of semi-trucks and helicopters. However, as a young man, Johnny (played in youth by Matt Long) found himself conflicted between his love for his girlfriend Roxanne (Raquel Alessi) and his loyalty to his father (Brett Cullen), who taught him everything he knew about motorcycles. Concerned for his father's deteriorating health, Johnny inadvertently signed a contract with a mysterious, black-clad stranger (Peter Fonda), unaware of its long-term consequences. But Johnny is transformed by his father's unexpected death — his career as a stunt-rider blossoms (indeed, he seems somehow protected from fate) while he becomes emotionally distant, even from his few closest friends. Only a reconnection with Roxanne (played as an adult by Eva Mendes) seems to restore a sense of hope to Johnny's life. But when Mephistopheles has a falling out with his son Blackheart (Wes Bentley), Johnny learns his true purpose: He is the "Ghost Rider," the devil's bounty hunter, cursed to punish injustice wherever he finds it and return escaped souls back to hell, and the only way that he can somehow free himself from his blood contract is to destroy Blackheart, a demon without any soul whatsoever.

*          *          *

Critics were not kind to Ghost Rider when it arrived in theaters, but audiences gave it plenty of support with a $52 million debut weekend and a $115 million overall gross. It's a disconnect that's becoming more common as of late, because Ghost Rider — like most action-fantasy fare — is not going to be for everybody. Instead, it's a clever amalgam of just about everything that would interest boys somewhere around the age of 12 — it's a western, a superhero story, and a horror film, and it has motorcycles, monsters, high-octane action, one girl, and one very misunderstood guy. The superhero angle is the most salient, since Ghost Rider is an origin story, complete with a young protagonist who has lost both parents and is burdened with a power he can't always control. He also finds a mentor in a cemetery caretaker (Sam Elliot) who seems to know an awful lot about the Ghost Rider curse. Writer/director Mark Steven Johnson and star Nicolas Cage make no secret that they have been lifelong fans of the "Ghost Rider" comic books, in addition to a few other fundamentals, like Harleys and classic monster movies, and Cage plays his initial transformation into the Rider like something out of an old Universal horror title — the character can best be described a cross between the Hulk and the Wolf Man… with a flaming skull head, of course. And with that basic setup, the story is little more than perfunctory, with Johnny and Roxanne pursuing a tenuous romance (never mind that he's an unapologetic stalker when he meets her again in adulthood), Johnny hoping to free himself from his dark past, and Mephistopheles sending his Rider to do battle against Blackheart and his minions. One of the film's better moments arrives when Sam Elliot reveals himself to be a Ghost Rider (which isn't much of a secret for anyone paying attention) and then cowboys up on a fire-snorting stallion to join the hunt. Then again, Ghost Rider taking his cycle vertical on the face of a skyscraper looks pretty cool. And watching the Rider wrassle with a helicopter, that's kind of memorable, yeah. Does that make any of this a good film? Johnson pre-empts the critics on his commentary track: "It's not Lawrence of Arabia. It's a flick about a guy whose head goes on fire."

Sony's two-disc DVD edition of Ghost Rider arrives in an "Extended Cut" that boosts the film's overall running-time by about nine minutes, primarily with small scene extensions that Johnson trimmed for theatrical release. The anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) is splendid, while the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio effectively captures the movie's soundscape. Disc One includes a commentary track with writer/director Mark Steven Johnson and visual effects supervisor Kevin Mack, while producer Gary Foster offers a second track. Disc Two includes the three-part "The Making of Ghost Rider" (80 min.), along with a look at the film's animatics and a four-part retrospective on the Marvel Comics series. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
—JJB



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