Without being saddled with a plot

No dividends in this deal with the devil

Without being saddled with a plot, Nicolas Cage has an easy zoom down the devil’s highway in silly sequel Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

One and a half stars (out of 4)

Rated PG

Without being saddled with a plot, Nicolas Cage has an easy zoom down the devil’s highway in silly sequel Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.

Kept from critics by the film studio prior to the Friday opening, anybody who plunks down their dough for this one (and it’s in 3-D, so that’s $3 more, please) will feel a little burned.

Cage reprises his scenery-chewing full-bore crazy take on Marvel Comics’ antihero Johnny Blaze, the former motorcycle stuntman who traded his soul to Satan’s henchman to save his daddy’s life. Everything is on a lesser scale in this retread of the 2007 fantasy flick as the action moves to Eastern Europe where Johnny is sent to seek out and protect a youngster named Danny (Fergus Riordan) whom the devil has on his radar. And with good reason.

Italian actress-singer Violante Placido plays Nadya, a pretty pickpocket who made her own ill-advised deal with the devil, producing Danny in the process.

If reluctant vigilante Johnny, who bursts into flames to become the Ghost Rider when he senses evil, can keep Danny safe, some creepy priests will reverse the curse.

At least that’s what wine-soaked priest Moreau (Idris Elba) tells him. To be honest, I’d pretty much lost interest by that point.

Peter Fonda is out as the devil’s henchman Mephistopheles, replaced by Ciaran Hinds as Mr. Roarke. Directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (Crank) have made a big deal about their “gritty new vision” for the character but this Ghost Rider has lost whatever style he had.

He’s sold his soul for a bigger bag of CGI trickery and a lousy script. Even the melodrama is dialed down, although Cage does his best to breathe the same style of world-weary psychosis into his cheesy dialogue.

Oh yes, he pees fire, which is an interesting addition to the mythology. And the special effects team gets a real workout as the Rider burns with an even brighter fireball, adding new dimensions to his smoking, creosote-crusted leathers.

But everybody seems to be in it just for the paycheque and with the perpetually financially troubled Cage it makes sense. When the human actors do their thing — Johnny Whitworth does his best to remind us of Denis Leary as baddie Carrigan — it plays like a bunch of solo performances on empty stages. They’re just waiting for the CGI truck to back up and dump the glue to hold the sloppy mess together.

Shot in Romania and Turkey, the scenery is terrific and gives you something to watch other than this confusing mess. Johnny Blaze, you’re just a candle in the wind, mate.

Linda Barnard is a syndicated movie critic for the Toronto Star.

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