Of all the bad horror/fantasy/sci-fi/action pictures Nicolas Cage has cranked out over the last decade, "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" is the Nic Cagiest. A goofy, gonzo thrill ride, "Vengeance" is a bad movie sequel so bad it's good -- a bad movie that's almost a great bad movie.
It's still a profoundly silly mash-up of comic book and quasi- religious "prophecy" about a motorcyclist who sold his soul to the devil, who transforms into a flaming avenger hurtling out of hell when the need arises. But this time around, Cage and everybody else on board are in on the joke.
Credit the directing duo of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, action auteurs who go by the moniker "Neveldine/Taylor." For jacked- up action, the guys who made the "Crank" movies (GREAT bad movies) have no peers. In fact, they should call themselves "The Crank Brothers." It fits.
In "Vengeance," the "Rider" (Cage) is haunted by the life he now leads. But a boy (Fergus Riordan) born of the Devil (Ciaran Hinds) needs the Rider's help. Satan, who wears double-breasted suits and alligator shoes, needs the kid to fulfill a prophecy. He's commissioned Corrigan (Johnny Whitworth) to grab the kid. A wine- swilling biker-angel (Idris Elba) and the boy's mother (Violante Placido, as ineffably gorgeous as her name) are all that stand between the Devil and the boy who completes' Satan's Grand Design.
The angel fetches Johnny Blaze, biker-turned-Ghost Rider. The guy who made a deal with the Devil and the woman who slept with Satan click, right off. But Johnny Blaze states the obvious: "We've BOTH got to work on our decision-making."
Cage is hilariously wound-up throughout this sequel -- manic, motor-mouthed and bug-eyed. The co-directors augment this with jump- cuts that make the Rider move with the supernatural jerkiness of a Japanese ghost. Think "The Ring."
Jaw-dropping stunts, frequent breaks for comic-book style animated "explainers" and OMG cameos (Christopher "Highlander" Lambert is a monk with Latin phrases tattooed all over his face) abound.
And the jokes? A lot of them land. One demon decays everything he touches -- wood and flesh rot, metal rusts and crumbles. Then he picks up a Twinkie, and ... nothing happens.
"Spirit of Vengeance" is still a Twinkie of a movie, dumb, loud and over-the-top in between its dead spots. But it's great to see what The Crank Brothers (come on guys, change the name) can do when you give them $75 million to make a biker-from-Hell picture. And it's great that they let Cage in on the joke. If he's going to do bad movies -- and his tax bills and oddball tastes say he must -- at least let him do good bad movies.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
2 1/2 stars (out of 4)
Nicolas Cage, Violante Placido, Idris Elba and Ciaran Hinds chew it up in the Marvel comic sequel.
Rated PG-13 for intense action and violence, some disturbing images, and language.