Film Review: R.I.P.D.

by Chad Liffmann on July 19, 2013

R.I.P.D. is a good reminder of how similar movies used to be better.

Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds are ready for all terrible CGI creatures coming their way.

Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds are ready for all the terrible CG creatures coming their way.

– What do you call an undead police force?
– The R.I.P.D.  The Rest In Peace Department.
– Ha!
– They would be like the Men in Black.
– Yeah.  Except instead of aliens, they’d be fighting hell’s escapees.
(…to be continued)

Although R.I.P.D. is based on a comic book series of the same name, first published in 1999 (after Men in Black), I can easily imagine the concept for this movie arising in the above fashion.  I haven’t read the source material, and therefore can’t speak to it, but it’s a bit too easy to find the parallels between R.I.P.D. and MIB; every character, plot turn, and joke from the former has a close equivalent in the latter.  It’s surprising that we don’t see the MIB writers getting credited for the R.I.P.D. story or screenplay. Perhaps I’m being too harsh.  But for the sake of argument, perhaps extra time should’ve been spent polishing what ends up being a cheap clone of a concept already executed to a much more satisfying degree.  The characters in R.I.P.D. aren’t well developed, the special effects look gummy at best, and the plot doesn’t take any unexpected turns.

Ryan Reynolds plays Nick, a member of the Washington D.C. police force, who, with his partner Hayes (Kevin Bacon), go after a bad guy.  I should mention that the film first establishes that Nick has a lovely wife, Julia (Stephanie Szostak), who he loves very much.  So, Nick gets killed in the bust and is escorted to heaven, where’s he’s greeted by a sassy attendant, Proctor (a very funny Mary-Louise Parker), and he’s very quickly recruited into the R.I.P.D.  He’s partnered up with Roy (Jeff Bridges), a lawman from the late 1800’s Wild West, who has been capturing the afterlife’s escapees for longer than he’d like to admit.  Nick is treated to a quick crash course as to how his new job works, as well as the specifics regarding the pursuit and booking of the undead…who are not-so humorously called “deados.”  As a way to conceal their expired identities, they are given avatars.  This aspect supplies some of the film’s funnier moments.  Nick and Roy wind up stumbling upon a larger evil plot that involves Nick’s killer.  Now, the two must team up, despite their (formulaic) differences, to defeat evil and save the world.  Huzzah!

Of all the actors, Bridges and Parker seem to be having the most fun.  Parker channels the dry wit and sarcasm that made her so memorable as Nancy in Weeds.  Bridges’s Roy is a younger, more energetic version of the iconic True Grit lawman Rooster Cogburn.  He snarls and chuckles, motor-mouthing his way through every scene with wise cracks and old-fashioned terminology.  Both of their characters would be highly entertaining if they weren’t surrounded by such a rushed concoction of ridiculousness.

There is one major positive thing going for the film!  At ninety-six minutes, R.I.P.D. finally breaks the spell of summer blockbusters with excruciatingly long run times.  Unfortunately, the film doesn’t use the tight timeframe wisely.  Rather than concise exposition that perfectly introduces us to the main characters, the film rushes from one silly CG-filled action sequence to the next.  Remember when MIB used a very clever Mexican border scene to introduce us to Kay, immediately followed by the fun New York foot chase to introduce Jay?  The tones of these sequences were vastly different, yet they both featured the central character handling an alien on the loose.  We also got to know Kay as a wise, experienced agent with a building desire to revisit his past life.  Meanwhile, Jay is young and exuberant, and his future is wide open.  R.I.P.D. isn’t written with nearly as much thoughtful planning.  Each scene feels like it was slapped together– a Roy joke here, a deado transformation there, and all the while the film neglects to keep the characters focused on a strong objective.

In the final fifteen to twenty minutes of R.I.P.D., the story really crashes.  Quite literally.  We’re never sure of what’s at stake by the time Nick and Roy are racing through collapsing buildings and flying cars.  The results of the evil plot are mentioned, but never really hit home.  Things just seem to be happening because, well, why not?

(…continued)
– What would the characters’ motives be?

– Some to ruin things.  Others to stop the ruining of things.  Also, the main character can wish to reconnect with his wife.
– Hmm, that last bit sounds like the type of emotional arc that would detract from the cool gunfights and destruction.
– True.

———-

R.I.P.D. opens in Bay Area theaters today, July 19, 2013.

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