Actor Nicolas Cage has a lot in common with his superhero counterpart Ghost Rider featured once again on the big screen in the pseudo-sequel Spirit of Vengeance. Much like the daemon-infested crime fighter Cage has the power to make anything he touches explode into a wild blazing inferno thanks to his unique performance techniques. Cage does not simply deliver a line he detonates it; He does not simply react to his co-stars he executes an interpretive dance; He does not simply throw a punch he unleashes physical armageddon. Occasionally the style provokes unintentional laugher but in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance anything less would be unrealistic.
The new adventure finds Ghost Rider aka Johnny Blaze a former stunt man cursed after begging the Devil to save his father's life hiding out in Eastern Europe where he believes his soul-sucking alter-ego can remain silent. But Blaze's TLC session is cut short when Moreau (Idris Elba) an Algerian priest with connections to the Devil's latest diabolical plan arrives. Seems Satan who walks the Earth under the alias Roarke is hellbent on inhabiting Danny the young son of Nadya who made her own deal with the Prince of Darkness. If he succeeds Roarke will continue existing in the world of man—so of course it's up to Ghost Rider to put the kibosh on the end-of-the-world scenario.
If you didn't see the first Ghost Rider movie don't fret; the sequel isn't confined by any established mythology nor is it that concerned with the logic of its own story. Directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor employ a manic eye for action displayed in earlier films like Crank and Gamer shooting motorcycle chases shootouts and flaming skull transformations with adrenaline-infused camerawork that should leave anyone susceptible to motion sickness running to the bathroom. The 3-D transfer of the movie is a non-factor the post-convereted stereoscopic effects rarely intrude on the zippy camerawork. Unlike the Crank films Ghost Rider contends with its script dragging when the movie tries to explain what the heck is going on and only picking up when the directing duo and Nic Cage are allowed to play.
A host of solid supporting actors breath traces of life into half-baked villain and characters—Ciaran Hinds stands out as Roarke playing him like a forgotten Dick Tracy baddie—but at the end of the day Spirit of Vengeance is all Cage's show. With the fire of hell burning inside Blaze is in a constant fight against himself and Cage embodies the monstrous struggle with cockeyed rage and growling vocals. Neveldine and Taylor make the most of their larger-than-life lead and Cage spends most of the film teetering on the edge ballistic fury. That's not to say the movie doesn't take its quiet moments–a scene between Cage and Elba where Blaze begs Moreau to remove the Ghost Rider curse is surprisingly dramatic—but the movie has goals: to rattle you at 100 miles per hour.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance isn't as fun flashy or poignant as some of its recent comic book contemporaries but for 90 minutes Neveldine and Taylor revel in the ridiculous wringing their character and lead actor for every ounce of mayhem. This is a greasy gritty grunge Ghost Rider purposefully disgusting and low-fi. While a stronger emphasis on story would only help the spotty action flick Spirit of Vengeance proves a decent alternative to the faithful boyscouts and friendly neighborhoood superheroes that fill our big screen blockbusters. Ghost Rider belches magma pisses fire and plays nasty—you probably already know if this movie is for you.
WHAT IT'S ABOUT?
In the latest action drama from the World Wrestling Entertainment WWE wrestler John Cena (The Marine) is back this time as New Orleans police detective Danny Fisher who captures a brilliant criminal mastermind and foils an attempted heist in which the crook's girlfriend is accidentally killed by a passing van. One year later the guy breaks out of prison intent on getting revenge by kidnapping Fisher's fiancée and leading him on a lethal game of cat and mouse in which he must complete 12 rounds of near impossible tasks or risk the life of his bride-to-be.
WHO'S IN IT?
Cena is clearly out to become the next Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and physically he certainly fills the bill of an action hero. As a film star though he's capable but just not terribly compelling. Fortunately 12 Rounds isn't exactly the kind of movie that requires a lot of acting ability. Cena manages to deliver groaner lines like "I'm gonna find you hunt you down and kill you " with ease and he looks good racing through the streets in cop cars and hijacked fire engines. If he doesn't make it in movies he'd be a great contestant on The Amazing Race. As the key villain Irish actor Aidan Gillen is appropriately slimy and evil but mainly one-dimensional. Steve Harris is tough and determined as the FBI agent with a personal stake in the case while Ashley Scott as the fiancée and Brian White as Cena's partner are fine in their limited screen time.
Director Renny Harlin who cut his teeth on movies like Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger knows his way around the action genre and has crafted one heart-racing sequence after another. Technically this is a terrific looking genre film that ought to please hardcore action fans who are willing to check their brain at the box office (and we know who you are!).
Apparently one of the many guns in the film was used to shoot the script full of holes. Because the key action scenes — while exciting to watch — look like they were written by a committee and have no anchor in reality. A key plot point involving the prison break of the main villain also defies credibility and fails to pass the smell test.
Lots of great action throughout but the sheer audacity of the grand helicopter finale is not to be believed — or missed.
Deep in the Carpathian mountains a team of scientists stumbles upon the entrance to a vast and intricate underground cave system--one that just screams "Explore me!" But this isn't your Aladdin Cave of Wonders garden variety filled with treasure and a genie in a lamp. Oh no. This Cave is deep treacherous and well possibly crawling with any number of things that could kill you. No matter. Biologist Kathryn (Lena Headey) believes there might be an entirely new ecosystem waiting to be discovered (what fun!) so she and her team hire experienced cave diver Jack (Cole Hauser) and his team to help them get in there. But what they all don't realize is that these ancient caves actually do contain brand new species of subterranean life both small and very very great. And could it be that some of the more deadly creatures have mutated from--gasp!--human life forms? Yeah they are about to get into some serious trouble.
How sad for Cole Hauser. He's a fairly serviceable actor with a penchant for solid action flicks (2 Fast 2 Furious) but he's picked bad scripts lately. Paparazzi? Please. Same goes for Morris Chestnut who plays Jack's right-hand man. He started out strong in Boyz N The Hood but had the unfortunate duty of being terrorized by giant snakes in last year's horrid Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid. Also braving the big bad Cave are Piper Perabo (Coyote Ugly) as a spitfire rock climber; Eddie Cibrian (TV's Third Watch) as Jack's hotshot brother; and Daniel Dae Kim (TV's Lost) as a photographer. Only Headey (who also co-stars in this week's The Brothers Grimm) seems to add a bit of credibility as the earnest biologist. But really that isn't saying much.
The one positive thing you can say about The Cave is that it looks pretty darn authentic. With the help of professional speleologists and cave divers director Bruce Hunt--known as Australia's premier commercial director--paints a realistic view of what these caves represent and what dangers cave divers go through to explore them. Shot entirely in Romania the cave system described in the movie apparently exists in the Carpathian mountains and some do indeed contain various new species of life. Of course none of these creatures are big enough to rip your head off and gnaw on your remains--at least none that they have found anyway--but you never know. Nice thought. But all the pretty pictures and why-would-you-want-to-go-in-there? moments don't make up for a lackluster scarefest. The twist at the end is mildly compelling but perhaps The Cave would have been better suited as a documentary on the exploration of these Romanian caves for the Discovery Channel. At least you could fall asleep on a comfortable couch watching it.
Nothing heats up a dull January moviegoing season like an action-packed heist film and The Big Bounce has the right recipe: Take one tropical location one craggy criminal (he's the good guy) one very hot girl and a heist scheme then add a platitude-spouting judge a backstabbing pal and somebody's angry ex-wife. Mix things up for an hour and a half and serve with a paper umbrella. Voila--instant winter hit. But not so fast. Even though it has all the right ingredients The Big Bounce is missing a few key flavors. The heist is all about a whopping $200 000 for one thing which is a lot to you and me but in movie terms is somewhat reminiscent of Dr. Evil's simpering request for one meelion dollars in Austin Powers. The bad boy apparent one very wealthy "Mr. Ritchie " played by a pasty Gary Sinise (aka this decade's box office kiss of death…think Impostor The Human Stain Reindeer Games…) has about two scenes--obviously setting the audience up for the so-called twist at the end.
A sun-kissed Owen Wilson as handsome petty thief Jack makes the surface of The Big Bounce borderline palatable and Sara Foster as Nancy Jack's love interest and Mr. Ritchie's gal pal is no slouch in the looks department either. Her character has more bikini changes than Annette Funicello and she's got a zest for life on the edge that's moderately charming even if she keeps asking "Where's the bounce?" when anyone with eyes can see exactly where the bounce is. Foster's version of beach blanket bingo is more the car stealing breaking and entering variety and she's the mastermind behind the plot to steal Ritchie's paltry $200K--for the thrill of it of course. To get at the money she uses--you guessed it--her sex appeal to manipulate Bob Rogers played by perennial hack Charlie Sheen whose most successful characters these days all seem to be pathetic weenies like poor ol' sap Bob. But the burning and still-unanswered question is: What in the name of all that's sacred is Morgan Freeman doing in this slapdash piece of celluloid? We may never ever know.
The Big Bounce is based on an Elmore Leonard novel which as movie patrons already know can be a good thing (Get Shorty). Director George Armitage (Grosse Point Blank) shows us with his rendition of Leonard's work that it can in fact also be a very bad thing. Aside from the fact that the beautiful Hawaiian landscape looks like it was shot with a slightly fogged up disposable camera and the surf scenes can't even hold a candle to Blue Crush the blatant editing gaffes are the worst of it. Characters ask the same questions repeatedly when they and the audience already know the answers and the actors stand unnaturally still as the camera lingers on them while they converse in voiceover. But the dialogue may actually be worse than the editing. Rather than take the best Leonard has to offer--quirky characters and twisting plotlines--Armitage took the worst--cheesy noirish dialogue and campy one-liners reminiscent of the pulp Westerns Leonard was writing just before turning to crime novel writing with The Big Bounce his first in that genre.