Ghost Rider is sadly lacking, both in spirit and style

REVIEWS BY MICHAEL JOYCE Ghost Rider (12A) Directed by Mark Steven Johnson. Starring Nicholas Cage, Eva Mendes, Wes Bentley, Peter Fonda and Sam Elliot. 114 mins TWO STAR RATING It seems to me that there are two kinds of superhero movies around now.

REVIEWS BY MICHAEL JOYCE

Ghost Rider (12A)

Directed by Mark Steven Johnson. Starring Nicholas Cage, Eva Mendes, Wes Bentley, Peter Fonda and Sam Elliot. 114 mins

TWO STAR RATING


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It seems to me that there are two kinds of superhero movies around now. There are the brooding, serious-minded, sometimes over-earnest efforts like Batman Begins, Superman Returns and X-Men I and II - films where you can feel the meticulous care, attention and love that has gone into them. Then there are the slap-dash, throw loads of special effects at it and hope there's enough bangs and colour to batter the saps into submission, ones such as Fantastic Four and X-Men III.

The latter group has been doing depressingly well of late and, after this superhero/biker/ horror/western hybrid, starring Nicholas Cage as Johnny Blaze, a motorcycle stuntman who sells his soul to the devil and becomes his bounty hunter, took over $50million at the American box office in its first week, their ascendancy is set to continue. It's rubbish. But if you're looking for a cheap and cheerful, bit of a laugh superhero movie, then it might just do the trick.

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Ghost Rider harks back to an era when superheroes, Superman aside, were strictly TV movie fodder with some poor unfortunate thespian forced to don some brightly-coloured costume and spout off about truth, justice and the American way. It reminded me of Bill Bixby, forced to wander the back lots of America every week in The Incredible Hulk, forever warning people not to make him angry for fear of unleashing Lou Ferringo.

Bixby is now Cage and Ferringo is a CGI, leather-clad, motorbike-riding skeleton permanently engulfed in flames. But though Cage and flaming CGI skeletons don't come cheap, beneath the surface this has the soul of a cut-price TV movie. It's in the obvious locations, all those narrow alleyways, the stock story ideas, the empty streets and the skimping on extras in the big set pieces. Look beyond the flash and it might as well be Doc Savage, Man of Bronze.

In a film not short of half-hearted performances, Cage's seems particularly tired. Cage is an Eh list Hollywood talent - one of those actors you wonder how they ever got to become stars. For two decades his oblong face, oddball charm and strange energy have made him one of Hollywood's most compelling leading men but recently his quirky has gotten awfully mundane. In Ghost Rider, he has his little bits of business - drinking jelly beans from a glass, listening to the Carpenters - but there's no kick to it because it's now exactly what you expect of him. He's had a good run as a walking Why the Long Face? punchline, but the joke isn't funny any more.

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