The title character rides in "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance."

The title character rides in "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance." Credit: Columbia Pictures

If you think you've seen Nicolas Cage overact, you haven't seen "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance," the sequel to 2007's "Ghost Rider," itself a high-water mark in Cage's emotive career. Reprising his role as possessed biker Johnny Blaze, Cage leaves no neck tendon unpopped whenever he transforms into The Rider, a flaming skeleton cackling atop a roaring Hog.

Perhaps you expected as much from Cage ("Drive Angry," "Bangkok Dangerous"), but you might be surprised at how enjoyable "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" manages to be. The best stuntmen in this action flick are its directors, Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor ("Crank," "Gamer"), who inject the movie with unrelenting violence yet never tip into gratuitous splatter -- a nifty way of retaining a PG-13 rating for their target audience. The result is an entertaining slice of teenage heavy-metal heaven.

The first film is essentially forgotten: There's a new Devil, Roarke (Ciaran Hinds, nearly out-Caging Cage), and no mention of Johnny's old sweetheart (Eva Mendes).

A new woman, Nadia (Violante Placido), is mostly a plot device: She's the mother of young Danny (Fergus Riordan), whom Johnny is trying to save from Roarke's clutches. Idris Elba plays Moreau, a gun-toting priest who joins the mission.

There are gruesome but cartoony deaths. But Neveldine-Taylor, as they're professionally known, are focused on spectacle, filling the screen with flaming machinery and massive clouds of tar-black smoke. They're having so much fun setting everything on fire that they forget to put Nadia, the film's only female, in a revealing outfit.

That mix of admirable restraint and unabashed pandering makes "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" a guilty pleasure, if not the most wholesome treat.


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