When not performing one of his death-defying stunts, like jumping over six Black Hawk helicopters with blades whirling, Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) rides without a helmet. Riding without a helmet is dangerous, but cool and sexy. Figuratively speaking, Ghost Rider the movie rides with a helmet. In fact it rides on one of those trick motorcycles, hooked up to a trailer so that actors can ride safely and still look cool. Whatever financial forces finally allowed the Marvel Comics heroes to make the transition to celluloid these past few years has had a strange effect. Some of the heroes have been treated with respect and passion, such as in the first two Spider-Man movies and the first two X-Men movies. Others have been tossed off as if some kind of deadline loomed: make these movies now or lose them forever. Daredevil (2003) and The Fantastic Four (2005) had a slapdash feel with haphazard casting and a careless choice of directors.

Whatever convinced producers that the guy who made Barbershop (2002) would be a good choice for The Fantastic Four? Or worse, that the guy who made Simon Birch (1998) could make Daredevil, and that even after Daredevil stunk up the joint that he could be trusted with Ghost Rider? Mark Steven Johnson may have learned something from those previous duds, because Ghost Rider is cleaner and lighter, and doesn't feel as if it's desperately striving for a coolness factor. It almost succumbs to its silliness. As a teenager, Blaze (Matt Long) is about to run off with his sweetheart, Roxanne Simpson (Raquel Alessi), when he finds out that his father has cancer. He makes a deal with the devil, or if you prefer, Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda), to save his father's life. But the deal also causes him to lose Roxanne.