Sam Strange Remembers: GHOST RIDER

Sam Strange tells the story of how he and Nicholas Cage beat the devil with the power of mediocre entertainment.

Sometimes you make movies because you need a break from your shitty reality. That's what happened to me with Ghost Rider. As I started getting older, I grew more and more bummed out that I once sold my soul to Satan when I was a child.

I kept envisioning outcomes that didn't involve burning in Hell for eternity. I had one where I trapped Satan in a film forever. Another involved becoming a double agent for God and ultimately taking new, more Christ-friendly management of Hell. In the end, the most entertaining idea was also the most childish: having powers forced upon me by Satan himself that make me awesome enough to turn around and shove my contract up Satan's ass.

It wasn't likely to happen in real life, but that didn't mean it wasn't a good movie idea. And I knew exactly what actor to use for the lead: Nicholas Cage. He didn't look the part and is often too eager to punctuate all his line readings with Elvis Hands, but I was sure he'd bring something special since he, too, had sold his soul to Satan at a young age. While I had asked to be the greatest filmmaker of all time, Nicholas Cage just wanted to be cool. Satan didn't pull any shit with me, but in his typically twisted fashion he made Nicholas cool but only in his mind. His success as an actor is a pure testament to the philosophy of "fake it till you make it." And nepotism.

Anyway Ghost Rider opens in the past, so it's not a Nicholas Cage movie for a few minutes. We meet a young Sparky Beige just as his daredevil dad, Fire Beige, is about to die of cigarettes. He's not really that fond of his father. He's much more interested in Girl, a girl. Girl doesn't have a personality. She's just a girl. They want to romantically run away together, but their parents say they shouldn't yet because you don't really know a person until they grow a personality. But they're in love and won't listen to reason. They make a plan to run away together the next day.

But that night cigarettes really start killing Sparky Beige's dad, and he's worried about abandoning the old man right when he's about to finally go to Hell. Luckily, a creepy demon Yuppie named Mephisto shows up and offers to save his father's life in exchange for his soul. Mephisto is basically Satan, except you don't have to pay the Pope licensing fees to use his name.

Sparky reminds Mephisto that he hasn't grown a personality yet, so he doesn't know what kind of soul he'll be getting. Mephisto doesn't mind. He just wants someone who can ride a motorcycle, preferably someone not attracted to crotch rockets.

While reaching over to read the contract, Sparky accidentally stabs his hand, and the spilled blood makes it binding before he was even ready. The next morning his dad is cigarette free, so he immediately goes out for more cigarettes and a big daredevil jump that kills his face. Sparky summizes right away that his father's death was caused by Mephisto, but he can't do anything about it. Meanwhile, Girl is by their special love tree waiting to run away forever. Sparky Beige forgets about her and drives his motorcycle away instead. He drives so fast and so angry that after only one year he becomes Nicholas Cage. Girl, on the other hand, is so jilted and sad that in only one year she becomes Eva Mendes.

With that crap out of the way, our movie can finally begin. Sparky Beige has now become a daredevil motorcyclist of great fame called Johnny Blaze. Instead of following in his father's footsteps, this is more a form of angry rebellion. He has no real interest in making his jumps. Instead, he sets up the craziest shit then crashes on purpose to make Mephisto stop what he's doing to come make sure he doesn't die. His fame is based solely on the fact that he violently wipes out every time.

That's okay with him because he still doesn't have much of a personality. Like many people, he's filled his soul-hole with a series of strange quirks that he works his ass off making sure people notice. For instance, he loves The Carpenters. He also watches a lot of TV, particularly shows that revolve around primates, which he kind of over-laughs at. Furthermore, he won't touch alcohol and instead eats copious amounts of jelly beans out of martini glasses.

One interesting detail, however, is legit. In an act of fame-based paranoia, he's adopted the haircut of a seventeen year old to help him separate his real friends from sycophants. If someone says his hair looks great, they're rubbish. Anyone who tells him he needs to get a more age-appropriate haircut is an automatic BFF.

While all this is going on, a really bad guy shows up on Earth. You know he's a bad guy because his arrival makes it rain fire. You know he's not that bad because it doesn't reign fire. His name is also Blackheart, so you don't even really need to be told that he's the pissed off rebellious son of Mephisto.

Blackheart goes to a bar and kills everyone inside so his shy buddies will finally show up. These three guys are fallen angles, each representing an RPG element. There's a guy made of ashes, a guy made of water, and a guy made of wind. They all hatch a plan to be this movie's bad guys.

Since three elements have just been cinematically represented, you might find yourself wondering where the fire elemental is hiding. You stupid idiot. The fire element is Ghost Rider. Didn't you see the poster? He's also a death elemental. And a guilt elemental. And a chain elemental. And the patron saint of SAMCRO.

Meanwhile, Johnny Blaze has just failed to jump 120 school buses in spectacular fashion. After the show he's interviewed by none other than Girl, now going by the name, Lady. Seeing this as a sign for redemption, Johnny chases her news van down the interstate, doing a bunch of dangerous bike stunts to impress her the whole way. She'd probably be less impressed if she knew that The Morningstar was keeping him from harm the whole time, but that's neither here nor there. Eventually she relents to his barrage of reckless masculinity and agrees to go on a date with him, despite his track record of standing her up and ruining her life so bad that she ages twenty years and looks like an ex-porn star.

Too bad that since his son is out trying to fuck up his shit, it's finally time for Mephisto to make a man out of Sparky Beige (the devil does not acknowledge stage names, as Nicholas Coppola knows all too well). While Johnny is at home psyching himself up for the big date (which he is already REALLY late for since she's already sitting at the restaurant impatiently downing wine like a Sex in the City character), Mephisto delivers a really gay looking motorcycle and moves Johnny's unwilling body on top of it. Having done that, the motorcycle drives Johnny to where the bad guys are. Once there, Johnny watches through his own brain as he turns into Ghost Rider.

Ghost Rider is a curious creation. Basically, he's an invincible flaming skeleton who can make people die of guilt. Everything he touches becomes Ghost Rider-ized, meaning it grows a bunch of flaming chains and gets awesome. For instance, his gay, decal-heavy motorcycle becomes an ape-hanger with human ribs after his ass touches it. Like Billy Corgan, Ghost Rider only comes out at night. And also like Billy Corgan, his head is so clean and white it can only be a product of cheap CG.

Ghost Rider finally arrives at his first fight and kills the ash elemental by wrapping a chain around him. He's ready for more, but the bad guys have all run away. While driving home, however, he happens upon a mugger trying to take money from Jonah Hill. Instead of just scaring the guy, he looks into his eyes and makes him experience all the pain he's caused others. As a result, the mugger drops dead from knowing how bad it sucks to lose an iPhone 4S filled with irreplaceable contacts.

The next day, Johnny Blaze wakes up in a strange graveyard with little memory of the previous night. He's really thirsty, but there aren't any jelly beans anywhere.

Before he can get too confused, the old cowboy from The Big Lebowski shows up and starts explaining all the rules regarding his new powers. Johhny Blaze would love to stay and listen, but he has a really angry Eva Mendes to deal with so he splits.

Sweet talking has no effect on her, so he tells her the truth. But that just makes her more angry. In the end, they decide to go their separate ways. This pleases them both, because they never really knew each other that well anyway. On top of that, if they had sex it'd be a sin, and Johhny Blaze would have to guilt himself to death.

But things aren't that simple. As soon as night falls, the bad guys come after Johnny Blaze. This time he's able to kill the wind elemental. It's hard at first because the guy keeps turning to wind every time he tries to chain him. But then he remembers that while he cannot catch wind, he can sure as Hell break it. So he uses his chain to make a flame tornado, and somehow that works. Then the two remaining bad guys run away, leaving Ghost Rider to deal with a lot of policemen. (You may recognize some of the policemen as Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, and Roman Polanski, all of whom walked onto the wrong movie set by accident.)

While running from the police, Eva Mendes sees Ghost Rider ride his motorcycle up a skyscraper and realizes that Johnny Blaze was telling her the truth. This makes her instantly forgive all past and future abandonments and fall in love all over again. She runs after him and hugs his flaming head. From the cowardly shadows, Blackheart discovers Ghost Rider's one big weakness.

The next day, Johnny Blaze wakes up at the cowboy's house again. This time, there's no pressing romantic issues, so he can finally learn the plot of the movie. Apparently, Mephisto had a piece of paper that could end the world, and a cowboy Ghost Rider stole it and kept it hidden. Now Blackheart wants the paper so he can end the world first and usurp his father. Johnny Blaze can't figure out where it is, so the cowboy shows him. Next, Johnny Blaze can't figure out who the old cowboy Ghost Rider was, so the cowboy shows him that too by flaming up himself and his favorite horse. After that, Johnny Blaze can't figure out what to do next, so the cowboy takes him to a church destined to be a good place for a movie-ending showdown. Having depleted the last of his Ghost Rider power telling Johnny Blaze what to do, cowboy Ghost Rider dies shaking his head about the younger generation. Johnny Blaze fails to pick up on this and also fails to remember him once he's gone.

At the big showdown place, Ghost Rider first goes up against the water elemental. You'd think a water being would do some real damage to a flame guy, but Ghost Rider takes him out just by screaming at him.

Next he comes after Blackheart. Unfortunately, Blackheart has Eva Mendes hostage, so Ghost Rider has to give him the world-ending piece of paper. This fills Blackheart with 1,000 evil souls. What he fails to realize is, all these souls make him vulnerable to Ghost Rider's guilt attack. Ghost Rider doesn't actually realize it either until Eva Mendes reminds him.

He quickly kills Blackheart by guilting him to death. Suddenly Mephisto shows up asking for the powers back in exchange for Sparky Beige's soul. Right then and there, Johnny Blaze fatefully chooses power over pussy and becomes Ghost Rider for life. He tries to apologize to Eva Mendes, but she's already walked off the film in a huff.

So that's it. A new superhero is born, and he's all spiky and into chain-whips and shit. The good news is that Satan loved the movie so much he gave me my soul back. Unfortunately, I just sold it again to get John Carter made. Hopefully that works out just as well as this did.

(three stars)