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MOVIE REVIEW

Cage fired up in ‘Ghost Rider’ sequel

By Tom Russo
Globe Correspondent / February 18, 2012
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You may remember Nicolas Cage’s comic book antihero Ghost Rider, a.k.a. Johnny Blaze - the Evel Knievel wannabe cursed to intermittently morph into a flaming-skulled demon thanks to an ill-advised deal with the devil. It’s a funny thing about Cage’s performance: Whether the character is in human form or not, it seems like his head is always on fire.

With Blaze, Cage gives even freer rein than usual to his kooky dramatic inclination to just see what sticks. That’s one of the things that hurt Ghost Rider’s 2007 movie debut, as Cage-centric touches like snarfing jelly beans from wine goblets clashed completely with an origin story played straight. Uneven special effects and Cage’s ridiculous jet-black bangs didn’t help.

Here we are, though, five years later, getting a sequel, “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.’’ And it plays markedly better, thanks to slightly tighter focus from the recoiffed Cage and plenty of stylish visuals from new franchise directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. (Or “Neveldine/Taylor,’’ as they’ve insisted on billing themselves, ad agency-style, here and in their addictively trashy “Crank’’ flicks.)

For reasons that surely have everything to do with budget, the story finds Blaze holed up in Eastern Europe, nearly broken by his curse. He rallies with a nudge from Moreau (Idris Elba, with an awful French accent), a gun-toting religious disciple trying to protect a boy mysteriously being targeted by the satanic Roarke (Ciarán Hinds, more smarmy than scary). Standard stuff, but oh, Johnny, the frenetic flair with which it’s delivered. Ghost Rider’s appearance in his initial showdown with the bad guys has a “Halloween’’-worthy tension and creepiness that’s dazzlingly rendered by the movie’s effects artists. Neveldine and Taylor streamline Blaze and the devil’s back stories through semi-animated sequences that look all the more striking in 3-D.

The filmmakers can’t keep it up for the entirety of the hour-and-a-half running time, but they throw enough inventive craziness at us to legitimize a sequel that no one really asked for. And it’s enough to make Cage’s own brand of crazy blend right in.

Tom Russo can be reached at trusso2222@gmail.com.

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GHOST RIDER: Spirit of Vengeance Directed by: Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor

Written by: Scott M. Gimple, Seth Hoffman, and David S. Goyer

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Violante Placido, Ciarán Hinds, Idris Elba, Johnny Whitworth, and Fergus Riordan

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 96 minutes

Rated: PG-13 (intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, and language)

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