R.I.P.D. (2013) / Action-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, some sensuality, sexual references, and language
Running time: 96 min.
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Bacon, Mary-Louise Parker, Stephanie Szostak, James Hong, Marisa Miller
Small part: Mike Judge (voice)
Director: Robert Schwentke
Screenplay: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi (based on the comic by Peter M. Lenkov)
Review published July 19, 2013
Mix two parts Men in Black and one part Ghostbusters and you'll have R.I.P.D. in a nutshell, adapted from the Dark Horse comic of the same name, though being overly familiar is just one of the many problems leading to this film's lack of ability to entertain. Early buzz would indicate that R.I.P.D. was D.O.A., reluctantly screened at the last possible minute for critics, and while it falls short of being a good movie by a good measure, it isn't quite the unmitigated disaster that prognosticators are leading you to believe, except perhaps financially.
Ryan Reynolds (Safe House, The Change-Up) gets the bulk of the screen time as veteran Boston cop Nick Walker, who ends up getting killed by so-called friendly fire by his avaricious partner, Bobby Hayes (Bacon, Crazy Stupid Love), who is out to keep the confiscated gold they've stashed a secret. In the afterlife, Nick is given the chance to remain on Earth by becoming a member of the R.I.P.D. ('Rest in Peace Department'), a law-enforcement organization who are out to take down dead people who've escaped judgment and are out roaming near their precinct located in Boston. He accepts, wanting to see his wife Julia (Szostak, Iron Man 3) again, though he is disguised to living people as the visage of an elderly Asian man.
Soon after, Nick is partnered up with wily veteran of over a century, Roycephus 'Roy' Pulcifer (Bridges, True Grit), a rootin-tootin' former lawman from the days of the wild, wild West. Together, they discover a deep, dark plot by the 'dead-os' (Roy's name for their deceased perps), to try to put together a golden artifact called the Staff of Jericho that will reverse the souls of the dead going up for judgment (and probably damnation) and send them all back down to the land of the living to rule the realm.
Jeff Bridges, obviously riffing here for a fat paycheck (a la recent Johnny Depp), is the life blood of the flick, carrying the load of having to infuse genuine laughs into this fairly unfunny script by Clash of the Titans and Aeon Flux scribes Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi. Bridges' Roy is just a goofy caricature, consisting of the veteran actor making a funny face and speaking with a cartoonish Western movie twang. Although it might have been interesting to see Bridges read his lines straight, but it seems even he knew the dialogue doesn't work as written, so he gave it a goofy inflection in the hope of drawing out a laugh or two (and two is perhaps the max result for most audience members should expect.)
The usually quip-filled Ryan Reynolds is relegated to the straight-man role in R.I.P.D., and there are moments when the actor does manage to deliver the semblance of actual emotion, especially when Nick is trying to communicate to his wife of his continued existence after death, though to her, he is just an old Chinese stranger who is stalking her. Though Reynolds does a respectable acting turn, it's washed out by the frenetic, defiantly campy style of the rest of the film; any attempts at seriousness feel completely out of place.
R.I.P.D. isn't all bad; the special effects are quite well done, especially in its use of freeze frames and slo-mo shots, so FX-flick enthusiasts will likely be more forgiving of the bad elements. However, the depiction of the 'dead-os' as scary-eyed and morbidly obese is not only unappealing and unconvincing from a plausible visual standpoint, but is never adequately explained as to why. The chase and battle sequences are also wildly over the top, as each creature runs and jumps up on and off buildings, ledges and moving vehicles, and while impressively rendered, they lack any sense of heft or gravity required. The effects are mostly used as a shell game with the audience; the more they're used, the more we're distracted by the fact that there really isn't enough content to flesh out a full-length feature.
In a mildly amusing plot device, the dead-os are lured into revealing their true selves through the suggestion of Indian food, which contains the spice cumin, that the deceased can't tolerate while in living human form. Meanwhile, the R.I.P.D. officers also have their own disguises, with the aforementioned Nick appearing as James Hong (interestingly, Hong is in two movies that R.I.P.D. is also reminiscent of, plot-wise in Blade Runner and tone-wise in Big Trouble in Little China), while Roy is seen as a drop-dead blonde bombshell played by Marisa Miller. Her appearance is one of the film's many illogical sight gags, as it would be virtually impossible to stake out bad guys effectively while turning everyone's head by walking around looking like a supermodel. Guns appear as such things as bananas (though not always, for reasons that aren't clear), and fire bullets deadly to dead-os but harmless to humans. One gets the feeling the buddy movie dynamic might have proven more amusing with Hong and Miller as the odd couple, but here, they are an initially funny sight gag with no real comedic value after the first instance.
Young-ish children, and perhaps some early teens, especially those unfamiliar with the Men in Black films, may find it engaging, but it is probably slim pickings for most other audiences. The highest compliment I can give R.I.P.D. is that, for at least the first hour or so, it is relatively watchable, with a visual style and energy that is able to smooth over some of the roughest parts of the main plot. Unfortunately, for the final half hour, the plot kicks in to high gear, and that's when momentum changes from a lightly amusing piffle to a dull, leaden, Joe Dante-esque cacophonic climax. Its relatively short run time, at least as compared to other big-budget summer releases, is a true blessing. In my mind, "R.I.P.D." might as well stand for 'Relatively Insipid Popcorn-movie Disappointment'.
©2011 Vince Leo