December 8, 2013

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Bacon,
Mary-Louise Parker, and Stephanie Szostak
Director: Robert Schwentke
Tagline: To protect and serve the living
Every once in a while, a movie comes along that gives you no clear reason why it exists and leaves you in doubt about the competence of everyone who was involved in its creation. R.I.P.D. is one of those films.

Based on a comic book, the movie follows the story of a man who is recruited by a covert agency and forced to team up with a difficult, veteran partner in order to capture monstrous creatures living on Earth disguised as regular people. Sounds familiar?


The premise is such a blatant rip-off of Men in Black that they should owe the M.I.B. crew some sort of royalties. Of course the aliens have been replaced by the undead, and the charm has been replaced by full-on tedium, but the basic backbone remains suspiciously similar.

The supernatural comedy kicks off when detective Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds) is gunned down by his partner (Kevin Bacon) after he decides not to go along with their plan of keeping stolen pieces of gold that they acquired during a bust. But instead of being sent to the hereafter, he is recruited by the Rest in Peace Department, an agency that hires deceased police officers to capture "deados", the spirits that have escaped and returned to Earth. To his dismay, his tart commanding officer (Mary-Louise Parker) teams him up with Roy (Jeff Bridges), a marshal from the late 1800s era Wild West. Friction obviously results, before the duo stumble upon a plan wherein the deados aim to rebuild an ancient device and return to the planet, and thenceforth it is up to our mismatched heroes to stop this cataclysmic event and save the living – including Nick’s bereaved wife (Stephanie Szostak) – from an undead invasion.

Okay, so there’s something vaguely like a plot in there somewhere, but what’s bewildering is why no one bothered to fine tune it. Did someone actually think that taking the M.I.B. template and changing "aliens" to "deados" would be a good enough attempt at starting a new franchise? Who decided that this was worth shelling out $130 million over? And why wasn’t any of that budget spent on hiring good writers?

R.I.P.D. plays like a bunch of borrowed, incongruous pieces that have been thrown together without any cohesion whatsoever. Its premise isn’t exactly the worst or weakest idea that anyone in Hollywood has ever come up with, but it’s an idea that needed a lot more work before and during its execution. And the profusely dreary script could have definitely done with a rewrite.


The opportunities that present themselves – like the idea that the R.I.P.D. agents don’t look like themselves to the living; Nick appears as an old Chinese man (James Hong), and Roy as a beautiful blonde woman (Marisa Miller) – are promptly squandered. There is no real tension or suspense; you can see it all coming from a mile. And the chemistry never seems to gel; the relationships you should be invested in leave you oddly indifferent, and it doesn’t even use the hackneyed buddy cop dynamic effectively. The actors can’t do much with the material they’re given and it isn’t very clear what attracted them to this project in the first place. Ryan Reynolds simply looks bored. Jeff Bridges tries too hard and his performance feels strained, but he probably had more fun playing the character than the audience will have while watching him. Mary-Louise Parker is charming but has little to work with. And James Hong and Marisa Miller aren’t used to their appearances’ full comedic potential.

But probably the most frustrating thing about R.I.P.D. is that this film could have easily been better. Instead of lazily replicating a formula that has been successful elsewhere, the filmmakers could have tried to be more innovative. There were plenty of chances to differentiate the movie from the franchises that it’s clearly influenced by, and a lot could have been done with its very sizeable budget as well as Jeff Bridges and Mary-Louise Parker’s acting talent. Ultimately the film doesn’t offer anything more than a few scattered laughs and a lot of scattered ideas that never cohere into a compelling movie. Basically imagine a cross between Men in Black and Ghostbusters, drain all its charm, and you’ll get R.I.P.D. Then forget about R.I.P.D. and watch Men in Black and Ghostbusters instead; you’ll probably have a better time.

- Sameen Amer