The sentiment of Tyler Perry’s movies (Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Madea’s Family Reunion) only seems atypical because of the delivery. Most romantic comedies express traditional values, but because Perry’s love stories aren’t concerned with being funny, the earnestness is front and centre. His improvement as a director in Daddy’s Little Girls makes the soap operatics easier to swallow.
New York limo driver Monty (Idris Elba) is trying to make ends meet while fighting for custody of his four daughters. It’s apparent his ex (Tasha Smith) is a terrible mother when Perry juxtaposes gospel music with a scene of her lecturing her kids with rap blaring. When Monty falls for his new client, stuck-up lawyer Julia (Gabrielle Union), Perry not only reverses typical gender roles in this Cinderella story, he uses it as a template to deal with black-on-black discrimination. “The hood brings out the best and worst in people,” Monty says. “That’s not just the hood, Monty. That’s life,” Julia replies. Their social class struggle leads to a bizarre climax of “honourable” violence. Yet the movie is always true to its own value system. Perry’s habit of reducing drama to verbal sermons is the main thing keeping his movies within the realm of daytime TV.
Amid the overriding goofiness of Ghost Rider, the movie’s fatality is that its hero’s condition doesn’t speak to anyone. When he was a teenager, Johnny Blaze sold his soul to the Devil (Peter Fonda) to cure his father of cancer. Blaze grows up into a famed stuntman (and Nicolas Cage), but then one day he’s called to duty—forced to battle Satan’s son Blackheart (Wes Bentley) from destroying the world. The hook of the title character is that he provides good heavy metal imagery: Riding a burning motorcycle, his head is a skull, and his skull’s on fire!
The direct teen-displacement metaphors of the Superman and X-Men franchises isn’t met by Ghost Rider’s convoluted setup. Mark Steven Johnson, who wrote the script in addition to directing it, doesn’t locate and then express Ghost Rider’s significance. Playing out as a lesser but similar superhero adventure to the becoming installments of Spider-Man, Hellboy and Johnson’s own Daredevil just exposes this as the next comic book property on Hollywood’s assembly line. The impact these comics have on their readers are being blunted by movies formulaic sameness. But since Ghost Rider is more specifically targeted to a younger audience than those other films, its lack of narrative originality is almost redeemed by its playfulness.
Cage, one of the mainstream’s few actors who is routinely willing to go insane in a role, brings little self-consciousness to making Blaze a wholesome American cereal-box hero. Of course, in his daily life he doesn’t act like he has no soul either. When Blaze explains that he may not have a soul but he still has spirit, it’s a little like saying, “I may have no heart, but I do have an organ in my chest that pumps blood through my body.” His ability to shift from a demonic buttkicker at night to romancing reporter Roxanne Simpson (Eva Mendes) by day is a 13-year-old boy’s ideal of heroic sacrifice. Then again, the profound nuances of Ghost Rider were aleady articulated in a Rollins Band song: “He’s riding through your town with his HEAD ON FIRE!!"
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