'Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance'

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance feels rushed, and not because in a year where The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises were released a 95-minute comic book movie feels like a short that plays before a Pixar film.

No, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance feels rushed because it's the type of movie so apparently slapped together that the opening scene lists "Eastern Europe" as the setting. Yes. Really. That infamous country of Eastern Europe.

I don't ask for much out of movies like this. I'm a noted fan of Nicolas Cage, a sucker for the superhero genre and someone who, in the right frame of mind, is willing to eagerly devour the kind of rot-your-teeth, Pixie-stick of a film that Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance might have been. As it is -- a mailed-in bit of slapdashery that didn't embrace kitsch nearly as much as it should have -- it's a stark disappointment, even taking into account my low standards going in.

I mean, try just a little bit -- at least give me a fake Eastern European country or something; even Fantastic Four had the decency to do that with Doctor Doom (and Latveria). Make more use of this generation's greatest B-movie actor. Have a little fun.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, in name at least, is a sequel to 2007's Ghost Rider. Nicolas Cage played Johnny Blaze in the original and he reprises that role here. He's still dealing with the fallout of his Faustian deal with Roarke (played by Ciaran Hinds this time around, but Peter Fonda in the original), but other than that there's little in the way of continuity, which is fine I suppose, considering the fact that Johnny Blaze is a loner to begin with and, just as pertinent, there were never many concrete plans to revisit his character after the mostly mild success of the original film adaptation.

Blaze, who, due to his power, has become a bit of a recluse not unlike The Incredible Hulk/Bruce Banner, is drawn out of isolation by the mysterious Moreau (Idris Elba), who cajoles Blaze into action by promising to rid him of the Ghost Rider, the hellspawned spirit that inhabits his body and sucks the souls out of sinners, in exchange for keeping a mother and child -- Nadya (Violante Placido) and Danny (Fergus Riordan) -- from the clutches of Roarke and a gang of henchmen led by Ray Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth), who also happens to be Nadya's ex-boyfriend.

So off he goes to save Nadya and Danny, only later to find out that Danny, good-natured as he is, is the son of Roarke himself (aka Satan), a byproduct of another of Roarke's too-good-to-be-true deals, this one made with Nadya. Despite that unwelcome surprise, Blaze blazes on because, I guess, he wants to lose the Ghost Rider and because, I guess, he has a connection with Danny. It was hard for me to buy either. Cage has too much fun playing a character like Ghost Rider on the one hand. On the other, he's not exactly bonding with the kid from Jerry Maguire here, and it showed in the scenes in which writers Scott M. Gimple, Seth Hoffman and David S. Goyer tried (and failed) to establish sympatico between the pair.

From there, the film stumbles and bumbles its way toward the obvious final showdown between Blaze and Roarke, the man who made him so powerful. Not that there aren't some fun moments to be had as it clatters to its conclusion. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, if nothing else, looks pretty damn cool. Moreau and the monks who are supposed to exorcise Blaze's demons, visually at least, seemed to have jumped right off the page of a Marvel comic book. Cage, if you can appreciate that the word discerning means nothing to him at this stage of his career and that he, you know, might be a little crazy, will make you laugh, especially when he tells Danny about pissing fire (really). Whitworth might have been most entertaining of all as Carrigan/Blackout. But overall there just wasn't enough coherent, consistent amusement to be had.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance could have worked -- at least that's what I believe. The ground in comic books is just as fertile for self-aware camp as it is for the type of gritty, smart melodrama that we saw in The Dark Knight Rises (and, really, all of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy). And so, in that sense, this is a film that easily could have lived up to its comic book roots. But it didn't because directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, who have actually done this sort of thing right in the past with the Crank movies, wasted Cage's bizarre talent for this sort of second-rate project and didn't do enough with the other quality actors -- Elba and Hinds, particularly -- appearing alongside him.