If you’re a fan of over-the-hill, balding, mediocre actors playing superheroes, “Ghost Rider” is the movie for you.

Of course, this isn’t just any superhero – Ghost Rider is a superhero with a motorcycle, flaming skeleton head and powers of a satanic minion, although for some reason he uses them for good. Admittedly, this whole package is a hard pill to swallow. But Eva Mendes is hot, right?

With this film, director Mark Steven Johnson has finally cemented his reputation as the filmmaker most committed to poorly reproducing non-mainstream comic books. After 2003’s “Daredevil,” it appeared as if Johnson could only improve, but he went ahead and contributed to the development of the equally disastrous “Elektra” two years later.

Now he’s on board with “Ghost Rider,” and he’s delivered his worst work to date. After realizing his father is dying of cancer, Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage, “National Treasure”) sells his soul to the devil (Peter Fonda, “Ulee’s Gold”) to cure Blaze Sr. While the trailers imply Johnny sells his soul to save love interest Roxanne Simpson (Eva Mendes, “Hitch”), Johnny actually condemns himself to eternal damnation to rescue his father, who ends up dying five minutes later in a motorcycle accident.

What Johnny doesn’t realize is that the devil has chosen him to become the new generation’s Ghost Rider, a satanic pawn whose sole purpose is to, well, collect souls. Nevertheless, the devil (a.k.a. Mephistopheles) doesn’t cash in on Johnny’s contract for a couple of years, at which point Johnny has become an avid stunt-motorcyclist — inexplicably coming to terms with his father’s mode of death — and quite bitter about his past.

Cage should be bitter about his clearly digitally enhanced abs, which only remind the viewer that he’s actually almost twice as old as any other actor playing a superhero. That wouldn’t matter too much if Cage wasn’t currently stuck in a relative career rut. If you’ve seen any one of Cage’s films in the past five years – from “Windtalkers” to “Lord of War” to “The Wicker Man” – you’ve witnessed the shrinking of his acting range. “Ghost Rider” does nothing to bring him back.

And Fonda is by far the most arthritic version of Satan in the movies to date. He shows up inconsistently throughout the film, and whenever he does, he appears as he is in real life: old and tired. His restricted movement and speech couldn’t strike fear in the heart of any mortal being, much less a leather-bound blaze on a Harley.

But Fonda’s Mephistopheles isn’t the least of Johnny’s problems, considering that good old road-rash anthem “Riders in the Storm” makes at least five redundant appearances on the movie’s soundtrack. Not to mention the pathetic attempt at a romantic sub-plot with Eva Mendes (put simply, there’s not enough of her in either screen time or skin).

And then there’s the movie’s true villain, Mephistopheles’s son, the aptly named Blackheart (Wes Bentley, “American Beauty”). Blackheart has begun walking through the heart of Texas to find a century-old contract guaranteeing the souls of thousands of pioneers to the devil. Should Blackheart get his hands on the contract, he would become the new lord of the underworld and pretty much ensure hell on earth. The kicker is the guy who has the contract is the Ghost Rider of the previous generation (Sam Elliot, “Hulk”) who also happens to be Johnny’s ghost-riding mentor. Who makes this crap up?

A good superhero flick should provide more than just fight sequences and the development of superpowers – how about his character? If Cage had more lines, perhaps his character would have been more appealing, but between the predictable script and his subpar acting, there’s no reason to believe he should – or could – have more to say.

Ghost Rider
At Quality 16 and Showcase

Rating: 0 out of 5 stars

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