Nobody else takes Nicolas Cage seriously as an actor these days, so why should he? Better to embrace the embarrassment his performances have become, and freak out with deranged gusto whenever possible.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance offers Cage plenty of opportunities to tap his inner circus geek, to twitch, cackle and flail without shame, going full tilt batwing crazy. Not since he danced in a pagan bear suit in The Wicker Man has Cage appeared this unconcerned about what the audience will think.
How else should he reprise one of his most ridiculed roles, in a sequel only studio accountants demanded? Cage again plays Johnny Blaze, a motorcycle daredevil who sold his soul to the real devil in 2007's Ghost Rider. Satan has many names and manifestations as we're regularly reminded by the script, explaining why Ciaran Hinds replaces Peter Fonda as Roarke this time around.
Part of Johnny's deal with the devil was a curse turning him into Hell's archangel, a highly flammable demon with a charred, flaming skull battling competing evil. Or as Cage explains it too casually: "I prey on the wicked and suck out their souls." Whatever a line reading calls for, Cage does the exact opposite, especially with howlers like: "I get it. You're the devil's baby mama." Then he's all heavy-lidded, baritone business.
Johnny is hiding out in eastern Europe when he meets Moreau (Idris Elba), a guardian angel with prophecies for all occasions. Moreau tells him about a boy that must be rescued from Satan before the winter solstice when something really bad is going down. That means unleashing the Ghost Rider alter ego Johnny has tried hard to suppress. "This thing has no reason or conscience," he explains. "Only hunger."
The devil's baby mama is Nadya (Violante Placido), who sold her soul to Roarke in exchange for her son Danny (Fergus Riordan). The boy will be the next vessel of Satan's power, replacing his current human form that's wearing out. Roarke hires a criminal named Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth) to capture Danny, bestowing upon him the "power of decay" to snuff out any interference from Ghost Rider.
It's all too silly to explain, or spend money to see except for the stupefying pleasures of watching Cage go off the rails. This is a Jekyll and Hyde performance with the most fun found in the "and," between Johnny's monotone anguish and Ghost Rider's matchstick-thin superpowers. Cage wrestles with transforming like a nitrous oxide freak, thrashing and gnashing his teeth, and squealing play-by-play like: "He's creeping at the door!"
Cage is so bad that he's occasionally good, in a bad sort of way. What's striking is that he appears so darned content that this is the weird path his career has taken. In that regard Cage isn't much different from Ghost Rider, impervious to bombs and giddily going down in flames.
Steve Persall can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365.