From the Archive: Ghost Rider and The Wicker Man

It makes me a little sad that it’s now been well over two years since the last time I had cause to offer a Bad Movie Night post. This used to be one of our proudest household traditions. Well, wait. “Proudest” isn’t right. This used to be one of our most beloved household experiences. There, that’s better. During the heyday of our gatherings to watch and mock some of Hollywood’s most woeful features, there were few things we organized that inspired such joy. And then significantly less joyful hangovers. But until you and your favorite wise-ass friends have experienced Charlie Sheen as Bobby Bishop in Shadow Conspiracy together, you simply haven’t bonded properly. How I wish I had entries that dated all the way back to then. Instead, I’ll need to settle for this: the very first time it occurred to me that I should be writing about a Bad Movie Night experience as its own unique review. A few of the hyperlinks have been updated, but only because it was important to do so.

wicker ghost

Clearly, we’ve been spending a fair amount of our recent time in this household catching up on movies, especially focused on getting in as many of the 2007 releases as possible so we can join the parade of year-end top ten lists with as much knowledge as possible. After a fairly miserable two-hours-and-twenty-minutes with a hammy performance that will almost certainly factor in the Oscar race, we decided that something completely different was needed for Saturday night.

We surveyed our freshly replenished supply of growlers and decided it was time to revive a venerable tradition that many perusers of this spot on the web will well-remember (well, fond, foggy memories, anyway): Bad Movie Night.

While there are some Bad Movie Night favorites that clearly stand alone, we’ve always been partial to the symmetry of double features. It just so happened we had a perfect pairing nestled on our DVR. So it become the Nicolas Cage edition of Bad Movie Night.

We started with Ghost Rider (Mark Steven Johnson, 2007), filmed proof that the Marvel Age of Moviemaking is fast approaching its nadir. The film introduces unsuspecting moviegoers to one of most whacked-out creations from the 1970’s, an era in which the company had no shortage of whackedout creations. It’s a dumb character to begin with and the film is written and directed by the same guy who perpetrated a previous Marvel superhero film that was downright unwatchable. But could the freakshow actor who took on the lead role actually bring something weirdly creative to it? After all, he’s enough of a comic freak to take his stage name from another one of those 1970’s whacked-out creations and give his son a Kryptonian name. The answer, emphatically, is no.

Ghost Rider, predictably, is another watered-down adventure aiming to please the least discerning moviegoers and toning down it’s macabre elements just enough to earn that treasured PG-13 rating. From a Bad Movie Night standpoint, however, there are ample mock-able pleasures, including:

–The wide array of horrible hairpieces.
–Speaking of hair, Sam Elliot’s facial hair seems to extend all the way up his cheek. Almost to his lower eyelid. It’s freakier than a motorcycle rider with a flaming skull.
–The lead characters goofball predilections for cocktail glasses full of Jelly Bellys and TV show featuring monkey karate. I have no doubt these were Cage contributions.
–The ever-wooden Wes Bentley, splendidly atrocious as the villainous Blackheart.

But this, dear friends, was only the first feature. Next came the amazingly wrongheaded remake of The Wicker Man (Neil LaBute, 2007). With a director like Mark Steven Johnson, Ghost Rider was doomed from the moment it was greenlit. Wicker has its origins in a somewhat revered 1973 original and was adapted and directed by someone who’s an acclaimed playwright and has at least one exemplary film to his credit. The film he’s crafted is a rollicking, marauding disaster. The plot involving a police officer’s investigation of a secretive island society strains credibility plenty, but Cage does the project no favors with a bug-eyed, frantic performance. There a precious few moments for the Academy Award winning actor that can’t be described as laughable, but the pinnacle is probably the moment he launches into action while wearing a bear costume. But then, as at least one intrepid YouTube contributor has figured out, there are so many great moments to choose from.

There are times when Wicker Man seems so very close to tipping over into a level of nonstop lunacy similar to that of another Bad Movie Night favorite, but it never builds up enough off-kilter energy to do that. Instead, everything just seems off. The actors seem to be trying so hard to make sense of the lines they’re delivering as they’re delivering them. Trying to find meaning and grounded emotion in this misbegotten material is the collected thespians’ second mistake (the first is, of course, signing on to the project in the first place). You can’t make sense of stuff like this. The best you can hope to do is get a few laughs out of it.

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