The Naff Nic Season: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011)

(95 Minutes, Rating 12A)

 

I remember a time when I had hope in my life. A time where I would feel the sun beating down on my face, a cool breeze rustle through the trees, delicately brushing against my skin, and I would feel joy and elation at a bright new day. But after wading my way through the dank swamp of Nicolas Cage’s worst films, I now feel devoid of a soul, which is now something i have in common with Johnny Blaze, the protagonist (and a bit of a wanker to be honest) of our final film in the Naff Nic Season, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.

 

Ghost Rider is not something I really had an opinion about when the first film was released back in 2007. The comics were something that had passed me by like light mist in the distance as I was too busy trawling through the various Punisher volumes and anything Ed Brubaker or Garth Ennis pumped out. The film adaptation of Ghost Rider was derided by the fans of the comics on release and mauled by critics. I, on the other hand, found it a mildly diverting couple of hours in between handfuls of cold chicken nuggets.and reheated chips. It wasn’t the best film I had ever seen nor was it certainly the worst (hello Beaches), so when I was tasked with watching the sequel for this particular challenge I was neither fearful nor elated.

 

In hindsight, I probably should have been a bit more apprehensive as thus far most of the films I have seen for this challenge can easily have dual use as items of torture or to incite riots (put Deadfall on constant loop in Durham prison and i can guarantee it will cause some ructions). But I trundled on in, like a blind man stumbling into a cheese shop, feeling for a strong cheddar only to find a rotten, leaking camembert.

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Cage returns as Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider, the stupid idiot who made a deal with a demon and ended up with a flaming skull of a head as some sort of benefit, but this time we find him in hiding as his Ghost Rider persona has become increasingly difficult to control. He’s offered a possible way out of his problem by some foisty monk called Moreau (Idris Elba), who promises him freedom if he is able to save a young boy called Danny from the hands of Mephistopheles, who we saw in the first film as Peter Fonda but is now inexplicably played by Ciaran Hinds even though Fonda was interested in reprising his role. As you can see the plot is so thin it borders on anorexic, rehashing the old ‘save the boy, save yourself’ trope from countless other heroic Hollywood films.

 

It’s no surprise to see that one of the writers involved in Spirit of Vengeance is David S. Goyer who, when on form can crack out a decent screenplay i.e. Dark City, The Dark Knight Rises, but somehow manages to puncture these moments of greatness with great big pins of solid shit i.e. Zig Zag, The Unborn. Spirit of Vengeance is one of his glorious fecal points. The script is weaker than my gran’s knees, messy to point of incoherence, which is easy to understand when you discover there are three (three!) screenwriters who had their paws on this screenplay, and there are some truly weak attempts at Schwarzenegger-esque humour smattered around the action sequences, that may have worked if Ahhhnold had been involved but instead are just embarrassing and at odds with the darker nature of the plot.

 

Cage’s performance is on the milder side of crazy. Not as googly as Vampire’s Kiss, not as dead behind the eyes as Left Behind, however, it feels oddly predictable. As we watch him scene to scene, you can almost see where he is going and what he is trying to do before he has even done it which is a massive shame as a big draw of watching a Cage is his sheer unpredictability. His fervent declaration post-Spirit of Vengeance that he wasn’t interested in doing any more Ghost Rider films may hint that he wasn’t having all that much fun filming the sequel. The rest of the cast are perfunctory, though it was nice to see Christopher Lambert pop up for a few minutes with a bald head and a sword (anyone involved in the first Highlander film are tops in my opinion and deserve endless cameos in all films), and Ciaran Hinds makes a fair fist of replacing Fonda, giving Mephistopheles/Roarke a more booming presence. For some reason, Idris Elba agreed to be in this, maybe to facilitate the purchase of a new Lexus or maybe to make a film that pushes The Reaping close to being the worst thing on his reasonably varied c.v, either way he does his bit, running about in a robe looking attractive.

 

For a film with a budget hovering around the 60 million dollar mark, the special effects and CGI in this film are laughable. The rendering of Ghost Rider’s skull is like something from a Playstation 2 game, and the achingly sad scenes of CGI usage in the stunts is enraging. I hope the special effects creators and technicians got a box of chocolates with ‘You tried’ written on the underside.

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I genuinely don’t think Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance seeks to be a good film in the true sense of the word. For me, it seems to aim to fill that ‘entertaining trash’ tick box but unfortunately it only succeeds in being shockingly shite (in the true sense of the word). If you thought the first Ghost Rider was an affront to the comics then you really should not see the second one. While the first film had its moments with some nice spiky exchanges, especially between Cage and Eva Mendes’ characters, and some decent action set pieces, the sequel is hollow, devoid of fun and bogged down by its hackneyed attempts at exposition. Nobody is having fun here, the audience included.

 

IMDB Rating: 4.3

My Rating ★✩✩✩✩

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The Naff Nic Season: Deadfall (1993)

Rating 18, 98 Minutes

 

You look at the cast list (Nicolas Cage, James Coburn, Peter Fonda, Michael Biehn), you look at the director (Christopher Coppola, nephew of Francis Ford Coppola) and you think that maybe this film will make a reasonably strong attempt at being more than decent. But no, Deadfall manages to be an atrocious mess of a film on every single conceivable level.

 

Joe (Biehn) is part of a family of con artists and after a sting gone wrong in which he kills his own father (Coburn), he vows to carry out his dad’s dying wish; to steal back some valuables from his uncle Lou (also played by Coburn for god’s sake). Lou turns out to be a trickster himself and Joe finds himself drawn into his uncle’s schemes before becoming completely out of his depth.

 

So far, so meh.

 

I’m going to be bold here and say Francis Ford Coppola’s ability to write a cracking screenplay didn’t quite flow down the family tree to his nephew Christopher. Francis has seemingly hoarded that particular genetic disposition for himself and his own branch. Deadfall’s internal logic is horribly flawed. For a film about a bunch of con artists everyone is absolutely dense as concrete, Joe in particular seems to be utterly oblivious to the fact that he might be getting played by his dodgy old uncle. Although he is sidetracked in rather spectacular fashion by Cage’s Eddie, a bizarrely tanned, moustached coke fiend with an accent so bizarre it sounds like Cage is practicing LOUD Spanish while gargling mouthwash.

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Cage steals this film. Of that there is no doubt. His performance in this film is pure Cage madness. There is top notch yelling of complete nonsense, ‘WELL, VIVE LA FUCKING FRANCE, MAN! ‘ some hardcore cocaine sniffing, an appalling wig which apparently Cage picked out himself, a very Ronseal-esque skin tone which only highlights the shoddy nature of his hairpiece, and some strange line delivery. I’m not quite sure what exactly Cage was going for here. Sometimes OTT works, see Pacino in Scarface for example, but Cage’s histrionics are so out of place in Deadfall it knocks the film on its head, almost drowning the film in a pool of Cage based insanity, although this probably would have been the preferable outcome instead of the hackneyed lump of dump we were left with.

 

Coburn runs him as close as is humanly possible, showing up towards the end as dastardly uncle Lou, with a shocking dye job that is enough to make you despair that such a quality actor has been reduced to camping around in this cesspit. Poor old Michael Biehn is rendered a mere spectator. He tries his best to keep things grounded and a bit more gritty than the parading peacocks of Cage and Coburn, but is completely overshadowed by the scenery-chewing villains. The audience’s heads are turned away from Joe’s plot and journey, and left with a bad case of whiplash as Cage steams into the film, roaring away about 15/20 minutes in. You end up not giving a royal shite about Joe, you just want to spend the next 40 minutes or so trying to work out what the hell Cage is saying. And then when he’s gone the film slides in stale, cliche ridden banality.

 

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Deadfall does not reach the depressing depths of badness like Left Behind did. At least in here we find Cage invigorated and energised, instead of seemingly resigned to his fate of shit films and death like he was in Left Behind. For that reason, it rates higher in my estimation by the width of a pubic hair. But Deadfall is NOT a good film. The Cage-less scenes are intensely boring, the director’s attempts at creating intense scenes through dark lighting and use of shadows just make you squint and wonder why everything is brown (probably because shit is brown which this film is (maybe that’s the deeper meaning we’ve all been looking for)), the counter intuitive actions of its protagonist are just embarrassing and the final showdown couldn’t have been more of a damp squib if you had drowned it in a bath.

 

Thanks to this godforsaken website and my own raging stupidity, I have seen this film twice now. Two times too many if you ask me. I thought maybe second viewing would have allowed to see things to this film that I hadn’t seen the first time round, maybe some shafts of light showing through this blackened turd of a film. Alas not.

 

Deadfall is a true exercise in Hollywood nepotism. Christopher Coppola’s family connections is probably the only reason he was given the money and time to make this utter parcel of shite. Unsurprisingly, it flopped at the box office, bringing in a paltry $18,000 compared to its budget of $10million. According to my research for this Naff Nic Challenge, it is rated higher than The Wicker Man which is the biggest lie since halitosis. At least in The Wicker Man, Cage’s weirdness meshed in with the general angle of the film and provided some comedy gold for years to come (those memes don’t just make themselves). Deadfall is cinematic ebola. Avoid at all costs.

 

IMDB Rating: 3.7

My Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ ( i wish there was a poo symbol)

The Naff Nic Season: Zandalee (1991)

(Rating 18, 110 mins)

 

After quite literally getting a big net and trawling the world wide web, I managed to locate the seemingly forgotten Zandalee in some sad corner, cast away into the darkness never to be spoken of again like a weird cousin that keeps setting things on fire and dismembering cats. A straight to video release at the time, it has became a very minor footnote on both Nic Cage’s and (The Honorable) Judge Reinhold’s curriculum vitae.

 

We open with Zandalee herself, a bored, sexually frustrated shop owner. Unhappy in her marriage to ex-poet now corporate stooge Thierry (Reinhold (yes, i am aware how unbelievable it is watching Judge Reinhold play a man called Thierry never mind a man called Thierry who is a poet)), she seeks out excitement and passion by having a steamy affair with Thierry’s weird, greasy artist friend from a different life Johnny (Cage). The affair intensifies, Thierry becomes suspicious and what follows is semi-pornographic, frequently histrionic barrage of naked, sweaty skin and excessive shouting culminating in a ridiculous Shakespearean tragedy of an ending.

 

This is the kind of film Channel 5 would have broadcast when it first came to air, wedged between the bizarre documentaries they acquired about Hitler and sharks. There are boobs and bums at regular intervals, regular enough for it to garner an ‘erotic thriller’ tag, and strong enough to keep fans of the soft core porn variety of film-making quite happy. It also helps that Zandalee is played by Erika Anderson (known to some as Greta from Nightmare on Elm Street 5) who may not be the greatest actress in the world but certainly has the physical attributes to make her character believable enough to cause such a vicious love triangle. She also delves into the sex scenes with particular aplomb, her and Cage making all that gratuitous nudity between the pair surprisingly unembarrassing to watch. We also get a glimpse, and quite possibly only glimpse on celluloid, of Judge Reinhold’s butt so if that is the sort of thing you are searching for in your film watching experiences then Zandalee is for you.

 

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Cage’s performance is not his best, but we do get to see an absolutely cracking example of his ability to go completely over the top in a scene where Johnny, unable to take Zandalee’s decision to break off their affair, trashes his art studio, punching and ripping through various canvases while howling like a banshee who has stubbed their toe, before slopping great big dripping handfuls of black paint all over his naked chest and legs, and then slumping into a defeated lump in the corner.

 

Reinhold does his best in one of his first proper dramatic roles after his breakthrough in Beverly Hills Cop, but he’s not great. The only strong thing going for him is a gloriously bad moustache which hangs limply on his upper lip, like a hairy tentacle of aching sadness. I’m pretty sure that he and Cage were paid bonuses for their facial garnish as Cage himself turns up for the party with a terrible goatee party piece, the bottom half of which looks like a fluffy bollock.

 

As mentioned before, Anderson is not Meryl Streep, but she puts in a decent performance as the object of obsession. She spends most of film as the oasis of calm between two hysterical and overwrought performances from Cage and Reinhold, but as we inch towards the finale, her character joins the mire of screeching, sobbing and waving guns about.

 

The finale itself just needs Kenneth Williams to make it a very convincing but bleak Carry On Romeo and Juliet scene. Some drug dealers, only very briefly alluded to earlier in the film, enter stage right to make a massive impact on Johnny and Zandalee’s relationship. It’s such a bloody cop out of an ending and reeks of a bored screenwriter who just got to the last three pages and didn’t know how to wrap it up.

 

I’m going to go out on a limb and say this film isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It’s no Con Air or Leaving Las Vegas, but it certainly doesn’t deserve to be dangling in the doldrums with the likes of The Wicker Man and Left Behind (I still have flashbacks of terror over that one). It is certainly a overly ripe, overwrought piece of work but strangely enough it’s never deathly dull but it’s just not particularly great either.

Average with lots of butts.

IMDB Rating: 4.4

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

The Naff Nic Season: The Wicker Man (2006)

(112 Minutes, Rated 12A)

What can I say about 2006 version of The Wicker Man that hasn’t already been said? It’s already been mauled by critics and skewered like a shish kebab by various other articles; the general public even agree that it is an absolute stinker of a film hence its appearance at number 2 on the Naff Nic Bottom Five. I, myself, have seen this film on a couple of occasions since its release and, if my memory serves me correctly, I was a slightly inebriated in both instances. You should all thank me then that for the purposes of this challenge I have watched The Wicker Man stone cold sober. I even managed not to drink after the conclusion of the film, not just because I didn’t have any in the house, but mainly because I was concerned I would have drunken nightmares about BEES (oh god, not the bees!).

 

The basic premise of The Wicker Man is very similar to the original with a few subtle changes. While Edward Woodward’s Sgt Howie was a devoutly religious copper sent to Summerisle to investigate a missing child, Nicolas Cage’s Edward Malus is a copper on the trail of a child after his ex wife has informed him and said child turns out to be his daughter (oh I  love a shitty pointless modern twist). Now here is where I feel the remake made its first major misstep. The importance of Sgt Howie’s religious beliefs in the original Wicker Man is absolutely paramount to the horror that unfolds as we watch the residents of Summerisle challenge and strip away everything that he holds dear to him; his beliefs, his then previously unquestioned dedication to the Christian God, his life, until he is nothing but a pawn in their game of sacrifice. The remake, for some reason, completely misses the point of this and goes down some strange Salem witch shit route and Sister Summersisle (they somehow got Ellen Burstyn involved in this) spouts some spiel about their little Pagan commune being mainly female due to their own version of twisted Darwinism. It’s not frightening, nor does it really make an sense.

And we continue down this nonsensical route for the next hour and forty minutes or a bit less if you got really bored of watching this shoddy, apparent ‘horror’ film and turned the television off.

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However, if we rewind a little bit, take a deep breath, and start again, watching this time through a comedic lens, we will actually find slivers of enjoyment in this massive overcooked cake of dump.

Some of the dialogue is utterly astonishing in its absurdity and I’m pretty sure some of it could be used as a backing loop in a Lemon Jelly song. We all know the howling bees line, the ‘HOW DID IT GET BURNED!’ scene has made it into countless memes and cut into various youtube videos (Nic Cage’s very own screaming goat moment), and ‘KILLING ME WON’T BRING BACK YOUR GODDAMN HONEY!’ deserves an award for its bizarreness. However, the line that got me the most was in the scene in which Malus spots two men carrying a bag dripping blood, his detective radar beeps and he floors them with his aggressive interrogation which amounts to him saying ‘What’s in the bag? A shark or something?’ The delivery is Derek Zoolander-esque, deadly serious with no hint of how ludicrous his sounds, and it makes you wonder if Nicolas Cage was off his tits when he read this script.

There is also some beautiful physical comedy on show. The scene where Cage punches a grown woman in the face while he is dressed as a bear will definitely go down in the top 5 funny things someone has done in a animal costume (Ace Ventura still takes the top spot with his emergence from a rhino anus).

My complaint about Cage’s acting in Left Behind can go out the window where The Wicker Man is concerned. A lot of the joy in watching The Wicker Man comes from watching the man himself. He spends most of the film borderline hysterical, screaming at women and bees, while he is being mugged off and undermined by the inhabitants of the island. Nuance does not exist here. This is the googly eyed realm of yelling shit lines, and I cannot deny that it is bloody entertaining to watch Cage stomp around, pointing his gun and screeching at people to get off bikes. The bee scene is particularly iconic and Cage gives it his all, probably popping some blood vessels in the process. Yes, this film is pure garbage but Cage brings the fireworks and stops this film from being truly unmemorable.

The other characters are so underdrawn that they were probably sketched out on rice paper and then threw in the bin yet somehow they got some pretty decent acting talent involved (LeeLee Sobieski, Frances Conroy, Molly Parker). But they are little more than tiny moons orbiting around planet Cage.

What galls me the most is the fact that director/screenwriter Neil LaBute can direct and write a decent black comedy. Nurse Betty was a fantastic, sharp piece of work, and Fat Pig was a biting takedown of our obsession with weight. If he had gone the same way with The Wicker Man then we could have had a half decent film on our hands but instead he went down the pure ‘horror’ route, using dull and basic ‘twists’ (the missing child being the daughter) without imbuing them with any sense of meaning as to how this affects proceedings, and hysterical set pieces which are meant to scare us but do little but make us roll our eyes or just make us laugh.

The Wicker Man is a film that should be watched drunk. It is the only way to get a vague sense of enjoyment without the fury of what could have been if someone had just been wise enough to say ‘no, wait, this is actually shit’, or ‘hey Neil, shall we just make this a comedy instead?’ Watching it sober has not improved my life in any way so i’ll be sure to have a bottle of Bailey’s nearby the next time I’m so bored that I’m tempted to watch this again for the fourth time.
IMDB rating: 3.6

My rating: ☆☆☆☆☆ (as a horror)

My rating: ★★☆☆☆ (as a comedy)

The Naff Nic Season: Left Behind

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When i set myself this challenge I expected it to be bad.. but nothing could prepare me for Left Behind

*I’m just sobbing looking at this promotional pic above… i’ll give you a hint… the film isn’t much better*

(110 Mins, Rated PG) (spoilers ahead)

I’m going to start this review by saying this is definitely in my top ten worst films of all time. I’ve stared at pigeons in the street pecking at a half eaten McChicken sandwich and been more entertained. I’ve accidently rubbed my eye after handling a jalepeno and learned more about my life than i did watching this film. You must understand this is a bad film, and not even The Room bad.

We start with a daughter coming home to see her parents, Irene (Jesus loving mom (Lea Thompson who should know better) and philandering father Rayford (!?!) (Nicolas Cage, who should also know better but is a rogue operator at the best of times)) for her father’s birthday but finds her dad has buggered off to work instead. So she skulks around the airport and meets ‘handsome’ reporter (Chad Michael Murray doing what he does best, standing there trying to act), shoots the shit a bit, and then he gets on the plane her father is piloting.

Then there is a flash of light, people and children disappear and everyone starts to scream, school buses fall dramatically but not dramatically off bridges, evil bearded men loot shops and bags, a random light aircraft plummets into our heroine’s car for no apparent reason apart from to set up further random and mildly pointless encounters as she walks about, and some British woman in sunglasses takes some toot in the airplane toilet because that makes everything better. Our intelligence is also insulted with some unsubtle foreshadowing where Chloe passes a ‘ROAD CLOSED AHEAD’ sign and the camera lingers, showing us that this is where the film is going to end and being really bloody obvious about it.

We are aggressively battered over the head early with character’s motives in some ridiculous  scenes like mother and daughter having an argument over God over some homemade lemonade, argument in the airport between Chloe and the crazy God lady with an intense Elton John eyebrow. Basically the first half an hour of this film is a series of arguments punctuated with walking and driving, and unfortunately, because this film was seemingly written by a malfunctioning computer programme, none of these ‘set-up’ scenes actually work in any way, shape or form.

Let’s also just acknowledge the utter shit that is the dialogue. It’s all clunky as a pair of cardboard box bollocks. There’s lots of meaningful breathy delivery, quivering tears in their eyes, some ludicrous scenes that defy belief like the Defence department guy who just tells some random bloke about his work at the Defence department in the middle of the plane where pretty much everyone can hear them. None of it feels fresh, everything feels staid, like the screenwriter has thumbed through a book of a 1000 film filler lines and thought they’d all do.

According to this film children are all so pure as they all get taken up by our Lord. So apparently we should be like children, innocent and non-judgemental. Maybe the Lord can overlook the other things like shitting our pants, eating worms and insects, stealing homework and screaming wildly in restaurants because our chicken nuggets had a little too much of a kick to them.

A particular note must be made about the music/soundtrack because it is spectacularly bad. Plinky plonk piano, MOR guitar strumming, punctuated by pointless chirpy saxophone which adds nothing but an irritating whine in your ears to compliment the utter faeces on screen. Luckily someone seems to turn the volume down after about 45 minutes so we can all just concentrate on being visually assaulted.

Performance wise there is very little to get excited about. Cage is flat, uninspired, and this is definitely a tax job. He spends most of the running time looking like a constipated shrew trying to keep a check on his loose sphincter. There might as well have been a Nicolas Cage cut out moved amongst scenes. His hair should really get its own credit however. It’s a delicately mussed bouffant and clearly doused in some Grecian 2000, maybe a couple of hair plugs for good measure, and steals most scenes that it’s viewable in. Chad Michael Murray spends his time mildly squinting like he has some sort of eye infection, like a camel wandering through the desert without eyelashes. He’s the cynical reporter who is caught up in the midst of the action on the plane and seems to be the only one able to keep his shit together but on the whole his character is actually pretty useless. His one helpful piece of dialogue being ‘I need you to open the Compass app,’ and even then, what the fuck.

Cassi Thomson as Chloe probably gets the most to do. She’s alright, she’s definitely not as terrible as Cage and adds a bit more nuance than Michael Murray but her character is taken straight from the ‘college girl hero’ trope book, rebellious against her mother’s current jesus lovey-dovey-ness, good looking and spunky, can seemingly do everything (drive car, ride and motorbike, drive a steam roller ?!??), and there is never any chance of her dying or failing at any point and so all sense of suspense is lost.

Everything in this film is unconvincing, from the acting to the script to the visual effects. In most of Cage’s garbage films there are glimpses of something remotely decent, but he doesn’t even have the decency to yell a bit and go all googly eyed. There was scope here for a bit of humour or something a little more self aware, but Left Behind is done with such sincerity and is so po-faced in its execution that it becomes unbearable. There are more redeeming features in the Asda ‘Whoops!’ section than there are on display in this film so it is no surprise in the slightest that this is the worst rated Nicolas Cage of all time so far.

IMDB rating – 3.1

My rating – ☆☆☆☆☆ (it doesn’t even deserve a half. I felt my last vestiges of joy leave my body around 35 minutes in)