Ghost Rock (2003) Movie Review

“Ghost Rock’s” biggest failing is that it never allows the audience to believe, for even a single second, that it’s an actual western. The music, the martial arts, the poor sound foley, and even the odd-sounding dialogue, are all things you’ll find at one of those Old West shows foreign tourists flock to in back lots all across California. Even the movie’s lone saloon location is filled with furniture that easily breaks whenever someone lands on it because every scene that takes place in the saloon will invariably end in violence. It’s a Movie Rule, doncha know. You’d think running a saloon where people are constantly fighting or breaking things would be, you know, a bad investment.

Michael Worth, who also wrote the screenplay, stars as John Slaughter, a gunfighter/martial artist/rancher/guy looking for the folks who killed his family 20 years ago. As the film opens, John has a chance to exact revenge on one of the bandits responsible, but fails miserably. Instead of following the bandit, John decides to run home to lick his wounds. Back home, he discovers that the crooked mayor (Gary Busey) is running roughshod over everyone and stealing land, as crooked officials and bad guys are wont to do in clich’d westerns. As John fights back, a mysterious woman (Jenya Lano) arrives in town to lend a hand.

Can John defeat the crooked mayor? Who is the mysterious woman? Why is Gary Busey in this movie? Better yet, will there be a single scene that takes place in the town’s only saloon that doesn’t involve some sort of fighting or shooting?

At its best, “Ghost Rock” is 90 minutes of insanity crafted from a silly and often inane script, average performances, and direction that is as erratic as the movie’s sense of logic. Gary Busey (“The Buddy Holly Story”), fresh from his failed stint on a Comedy Central show where he played his best role to date — himself — is once again the kooky villain. Actually, the actor looks mostly bemused by his appearance in such a shoddy production, and who can blame him. Busey is no doubt the best actor in the bunch, which isn’t saying much when his only real competition is B-movie vet Jeff Fahey, who shows up for the first 15 minutes and then disappears, only to inexplicably return for the final 15 minutes. Another vet, Adrienne Barbeau (“The Fog”), shows up as the owner of that saloon that keeps getting busted up. Methinks she needs a better investment advisor.

“Ghost Rock” is certainly not bad if all one wants is mindless entertainment, but it’s nothing to take home to mom. (Although considering my mom’s penchant for mindless, nonsensical entertainment (she’s a big fan of “Walker, Texas Ranger”) “Ghost Rock” might just be up her alley.) Star Michael Worth himself seems to be on his way to usurping co-star Jeff Fahey’s crown as the king of Action B-Movies. He obviously knows his way around a dojo, but I’m not sure if his own script explains how his character knows kung fu. I suppose it’s insinuated that he must have learned it from the Chinese folks living on his father’s land. Then again, Martians could have taught him for all the sense the script makes.

Although one gets the sense that Worth and Rikert are going for camp here, that doesn’t really explain why the movie is filled with bloody shoot-outs and massacres. The movie opens with a massacre, moves along to a bloody shootout, and ends things with another (probably too) long shootout. Scattered between the two epic shootouts are hangings, whippings, random acts of killings, and Odious Comic Relief Cherokee Bill (Craig Wasson) getting his hand chopped off. The comedy is absurd, but sometimes funny. Of note is a saloon girl who invents the “lap dance” and, I believe, the concept of stripping. The script also throws some painful puns our way, but it’s nevertheless worth a chuckle or two.

It goes without saying that the low-budget “Ghost Rock” is not original in the least. Even its use of martial arts harkens back to “Kung Fu” the TV show. The presence of Jenya Lano’s Savanah is obviously patterned after Sharon Stone’s character in “The Quick and the Dead”. Hell, I think Lano even borrowed Stone’s wardrobe for this role. As for action, “Ghost” delivers if you don’t expect too much. The shootouts are a bit of a letdown, mostly because the gunshot effects sound like wet firecrackers, and all the bad guys suffer from Dumb Action Movie Clich’. It seems every other minute the bad guys have our heroes at the point of a gun, but for whatever reason they never feel the need to pull the trigger. This is the type of stupidity only possible in Dumb Action Movies.

Remember my original question? Will there ever be a single scene that takes place in the movie’s only saloon that didn’t end with a physical confrontation of some sort? The answer: Not a single one. Every single scene in the saloon eventually ends with someone getting punch or shot.

I would like to end this review by giving director Dustin Rikert a bit of advice. It’s this: When you are making a western, and the setting is supposed to be a 19th century western town, make sure you shoot the movie far, far away from any main roads. In one scene, toward the end, a white car flies by in the background. I absolutely, positively, kid you not on this one.

Dustin Rikert (director) / Michael Worth (screenplay)
CAST: Gary Busey …. Jack Pickett
Michael Worth …. John Slaughter
Jeff Fahey …. Moses Logan
Adrienne Barbeau …. Mattie Baker
James Hong …. Weng
Jenya Lano …. Savanah Starr

Buy Ghost Rock on DVD