Tuesday, June 19, 2012

New on DVD/Blu-ray: Cage x 2: GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE (2012) and SEEKING JUSTICE (2012)

Though his star seems to be fading--those NATIONAL TREASURE movies weren't that long ago, folks--Nicolas Cage is as busy as ever, even if his films aren't quite doing the boffo business they once did.  Two of Cage's recent films have just been released on DVD and Blu-ray:  a sequel no one wanted (GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE) and a suspense thriller no one saw (SEEKING JUSTICE). 

(US/United Arab Emirates, 2012)

GHOST RIDER was released in 2007 to critical derision and grossed $115 million despite audiences not really giving much of a shit about it.  Think about it.  Do you know anyone who really likes GHOST RIDER?  But yet, somehow, a sequel got the greenlight and some people were stoked about it.  Why?  Because the job was given to the team of Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor, who somehow have a devoted fanboy following despite making exactly one good movie (2006's CRANK).  Perhaps people thought they'd bring that sense of CRANK insanity to the party, but instead, they brought their overbearing, headache-inducing CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE attitude and coupled with a barely-there Cage, the results are deadening.  Cage's Johnny Blaze, the Ghost Rider, is in exile in Eastern Europe (to help explain the cost-cutting Romania locations), but gets pulled back into the fight against evil when the Devil (Ciarin Hinds) tries to abduct his spawn (Fergus Riordan) from his mortal mother (Violante Placido).  Groan-inducing humor (Cage to Placido: "You're the Devil's babymama") and CGI that's a notch above Asylum-level abound.  There's hardly a shot in this that doesn't utilize extensive CGI, and with Johnny Blaze frequently in skull-engulfed-in-flames Ghost Rider mode, Cage gets to take about half of the movie off.  Loaded with shaky-cam action and jittery, jumpy zooms, the dismal GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE is a miserable experience, and had to look even worse in theaters in 3-D.   Cage's crazy act feels pretty phoned-in here, almost like he can't even find a reason for this film to exist, which typifies far too many of Cage's vehicles these days.  And on top of that, it wastes fine actors like Hinds, Idris Elba, and a great-to-see-him-again Christopher Lambert as the leader of a cabal of evil monks.  Budgeted at a wasteful, borderline-disgraceful $75 million, it grossed $51 million, which is what GHOST RIDER made in its first weekend back in 2007.  So whatever magic people were expecting from Neveldine/Taylor, it wasn't enough to make them care that much about going to see it once it opened.  And as it turned out, they weren't missing a thing as the admittedly awesome CRANK looks more like a fluke for Neveldine/Taylor with each passing year. (PG-13, 95 mins)

(US, 2012)

Given a limited release on 200 or so screens after two years on the shelf, SEEKING JUSTICE is often deliriously stupid, but it makes a world of difference when Cage is engaged with the material.    Cage is Will Gerard, a New Orleans high school English teacher whose wife Laura (January Jones) is brutally raped.  In the hospital, Will is approached by the mysterious Simon (Guy Pearce) who claims to know who the rapist is and will "take care of it" for Will...but he'll owe a favor when asked.  That night, the rapist is killed.  Six months later, Simon contacts Will and instructs him that he must kill a known pedophile and pornographer.  When Will refuses, Simon and his ever-present team of sinister-looking associates who seem to be anywhere in New Orleans at any given moment ("we're just a small group of concerned citizens," Simon explains), proceed to make his life very difficult.  Directed by veteran journeyman Roger Donaldson (1987's NO WAY OUT,  1995's SPECIES, and 2005's THE WORLD'S FASTEST INDIAN, among numerous others), SEEKING JUSTICE is the kind of dumb thriller that probably plays a lot better at home than in the theater.  It also seems to be aware of its own silliness, with countless contrivances and implausibilities and ridiculous signals (Pearce: "If you want us to take care of this for you, there's a vending machine outside the oncology department.  Go there and buy two Forever chocolate bars, but you have to buy them within the next hour and we'll know your answer is yes," or the ominous secret code that a job has been completed: "The hungry rabbit jumps").  It's also amusing seeing Cage, as a milquetoast Shakespeare teacher and chess player, suddenly turn into an action hero during a wild chase scene that finds him dodging semis, jumping concrete dividers, and essentially playing Frogger across a busy highway. And of course, as the film goes on and the twists pile up, Cage reaches into his bag of tricks and like a classic rocker saving all the fan-favorite hits for the end of the gig, starts making faces, shouting, screaming, frantically running around, freaking out, and basically Caging it up.

Look, SEEKING JUSTICE is a dumb, dumb movie.  But it's also an enjoyable dumb movie, and fully illustrates the difference between Cage when he cares and when he doesn't (see GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE.  Or better yet, don't).  Also with Harold Perrineau, Xander Berkeley, IronE Singleton (THE WALKING DEAD's T-Dog!), and, in her second frivolous, nothing supporting role in New On DVD/Blu-ray in the last three weeks, DEXTER's Jennifer Carpenter, who really should be getting better work. Tobey Maguire was one of the producers. (R, 105 mins)

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