A film review by Craig J. Koban July 24, 2013

R.I.P.D. j

2013, PG-13, 96 mins.

 

Jeff Bridges as Roy Pulsipher  /  Ryan Reynolds as Nick Walker  /  Kevin Bacon as Bobby Hayes  /  Stephanie Szostak as Julia  /  Mary-Louise Parker as Proctor  /  Marisa Miller as Roy's Avatar  /  Robert Knepper as Nawlicki  /  James Hong as Nick's Avatar / Jerry Chen

Directed by Robert Schwentke  /  Written by Phil Hay, based on the Dark Horse comic series REST IN PEACE DEPARTMENT by Peter M. Lenkov

SCREENED IN
3D

R.I.P.D. is one of those dubiously awful comic book film adaptations that becomes easily forgettable within…say…approximately a minute or so after seeing it.  

The film – appropriated from the Peter M. Lenkov Dark Horse comic book – wants to be a new MEN IN BLACK so badly that I think that it went into production without even knowing just how much of a painfully obvious M.I.B. clone it really is.  The fact that it also shamelessly – without any tact or care in the world – rips off other genre films is a further black mark on its reputation.  Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with riffing on past films and trying to recapture their lightning in a bottle aesthetic, but to do absolutely nothing novel, fresh, or invigorating while doing just that displays a fundamental artistic laziness.  Few films are as lazily conceived as R.I.P.D.. 

I will concede this, though: The premise of R.I.P.D. is somewhat nifty on paper; it just royally sucks in the implementation department.  It involves a couple of cops – one from the wild west and the other from the present day – that die and then get enlisted as angel-like police officers for the R.I.P.D. – or Rest In Peace Department - to send people and monsters that have somehow escaped death back to their judgments.  They appear on Earth, but to everyone else around them – including past loved ones – they have a different appearance to maintain their cover.  Yeah, this does not sound altogether rotten, as there is a kernel of a good film to be made from this idea, but R.I.P.D. feels so gracelessly and fundamentally lacking in a confident manner of pulling it off that you’re left kind of slack-jawed by its very ineptitude.  That, and as far as big-budget sci-fi action comedies go, it really, really lacks well-sustained action, intrigue, and, yes, laughs. 

 

 

Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds, looking mostly confused when he’s not bored in the film) plays a semi-corrupt cop that – during the opening sections of the story – is secretly hiding some pilfered gold that he and his partner, Bobbie Hayes (Kevin Bacon) seized during a drug raid.  Nick’s intentions are mostly honorable, as he’s trying to save up for a nest egg for both himself and his wife Julie (Stephanie Szostak).  Unfortunately for Nick, his long-standing partner betrays and kills him when he thinks that Nick potentially could squeal on their criminal activities.  Thankfully, Nick does not really die, per se, as he is whisked up and away into the heavens to the R.I.P.D. HQ, where he meets manager Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker, one of the few actors here that at least appears to be having fun). 

Proctor has the difficult task of explaining to Nick – and us in the audience – that he is indeed dead, but is to be enlisted in the department to hunt down “Deados,” or vile and evil spirits that have managed to make it back down to Earth.  Having to very quickly get acclimatized to his new job, Nick is then given a jolt when he is paired with a new partner, Roy Pulsipher (Jeff Bridges), who was once a Wyatt Earp-eque lawman from 19th Century.  Predictably, the two are a fire and gasoline pairing that do not get along at first.  Further complications ensue for poor Nick, seeing as he is incapable of reconnecting with his wife back home because, on the outside to everyone on Earth, both he and Roy appear as an old Asian man (James Hong) and a supermodel (Marisa Miller) respectively.  As Nick desperately tries to blend in with his very peculiar new occupation and partner, he makes a shocking discovery that a special star gate, of sorts, is trying to be opened by one nefarious Deado to have all of the worst monster vermin in existence to rain down on Earth and take over the world. 

There is really one reason and one reason only to sit through R.I.P.D. and that is for the presence of Jeff Bridges, who I truly think knew that he was in a wretched film and just swings for the fences and goes with it.  There is no doubt that, superficially, Bridges is just exporting elements of his own Rooster Cogburn performance from TRUE GRIT with a sprinkle here and there of the Dude from THE BIG LEBOWSKI.  Yet, Bridges ripping off…well…himself is not that much of an unpardonable sin, seeing as he gives every scene he’s in a much needed jolt to the heart.  Even though the film around him is pretty much a failure, it’s a hoot to witness the actor broadly snort, shout, punch, shoot, and flail himself though the story with a reckless over-the-top abandon.  Watching R.I.P.D. without the Oscar winning actor just might have been borderline unendurable.  Reynolds by comparison, an actor I have liked before with just the right material, appears so charmless and disinterested by the whole proceedings that he really needs Bridges to work off of to make his own limited performance work.  

There is some decent directing talent on board here as well; Robert Schwentke previously made RED and FLIGHT PLAN, but in R.I.P.D. he really seems at a loss for how to harness all of the supernatural elements, visual effects, and comedy into one cohesive and audience-pleasing whole.  Most of the action in the film seems dutifully – if not slavishly – reliant on some generic, poorly rendered, and frankly not-ready-for-prime-time CGI effects, which are not really in the same league as what the first MEN IN BLACK offered up a decade-plus in the past.  The individual ghouls and monstrous meanies themselves feel more like cartoon/video game bosses than they do as creatures with a tangible weight and believability.  Please note: If you’re going to make a would-be glossy, eye-popping, and lavish looking special effects comedy, at least make sure that the said effects don’t look like preliminary test reels. 

Then there are other things in the film that just baffled me or were never really embellished that well, like how, for instance, spicy Indian food acts as a catalyst to bring out the monsters from their otherwise human form.  Then there is a bizarre method by which Nick and Roy interrogate their perps by asking truly odd questions to deduce equally peculiar behavior that’s supposed to offer up absurdist laughs, but instead really falls short.  Then there’s the whole running gag of Roy and Nick appearing as their very different looking avatars on Earth, which certainly is a neat idea, but the writers never once milk it to any satisfyingly hilarious levels.  And speaking of satisfying, the true nature of one character is not so much a huge plot twist as it is insipidly anti-climatic. 

I wanted to like this movie.  I really did.  Alas, R.I.P.D. never gels as a film that should have been given a large-scale theatrical release in the first place.  It’s one of those haphazardly made efforts - done with a startling level of creative sloppiness, lethargy, and overall blandness - that how it just didn’t find its way direct-to-video is beyond me.  Paying money to see it – and especially at the already unforgivably high surcharged prices of a 3D ticket – is a crime in itself that Roy and Nick should investigate.  R.I.P.D. is just simply D.O.A..   

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