July 19, 2013

R.I.P.D.

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



R.I.P.D.

ACTION/HORROR:

United States, 2013

U.S. Release Date:

2013-07-19

Running Length:

1:36

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Violence, Profanity)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Bacon, Mary-Louise Parker, Stephanie Szostak

Director:

Robert Schwentke

Screenplay:

Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi, based on the Dark Horse comic

Cinematography:

Alwin H. Kuchler

Music:

Christophe Beck

U.S. Distributor:

Universal Pictures

Subtitles:

none


It's difficult to pinpoint how R.I.P.D. fell into the rat-hole in which it exists. Is the problem the director? The screenwriters? Did the studio step in and sabotage the production team's creative vision? Regardless, in R.I.P.D., we have a legitimate train wreck of a motion picture: a film that doesn't work on any level. It's not funny. It's not exciting. It's not engaging. It's a waste of time and money. Having seen it, I can understand why it was hidden from critics. The disappointment is that it wasn't hidden from everyone else as well.

On paper, it doesn't sound too bad: a couple of dead cops - old West lawman Roy (Jeff Bridges) and Boston P.D. cop Nick (Ryan Reynolds) - return to Earth as agents for the R.I.P.D. (Rest In Peace Department) in different bodies to send people who have cheated death to their judgments. In the course of their investigations, they learn that a group of these "Deaders," led by Nick's dastardly ex-partner, Hayes (Kevin Bacon), are assembling an ancient artifact that, when completed, will allow them to trigger the apocalypse. So, yes, this is yet another 2013 movie that explores the end of the world. Are we as a society that obsessed with Armageddon or is it just Hollywood?

The problems begin with the screenplay, which is credited to Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi and is based on the Dark Horse comic. Are these two actually responsible for the lifeless script or did someone else have a hand in it? I don't know the answer but a look at Hay & Manfredi's filmography doesn't inspire confidence (Aeon Flux, Clash of the Titans 2010). Everything about R.I.P.D. is wrong, starting with a storyline that belongs to a bad Men in Black sequel and ending with a mismatched buddy aspect that never gels. The movie tries to play up the comedic half of its DNA but it's rarely funny. Viewers can see when the movie is straining to get laughs and the result is weak and meager. And, to add insult to injury, the special effects are anything but "special." Much of the creature design is shoddy and its execution is questionable. The only thing of note is the "freeze frame" effect that occurs at the moment of death (and has a character wander around a setting where time is stopped) - that's effectively accomplished.

Buddy movies thrive on chemistry and there's none evident here. Jeff Bridges is trying too hard to be The Dude in Old West duds; his attempts at extreme quirkiness are forced and plaster over his 1000-watt charisma. Ryan Reynolds looks bored. His expression suggests that he can't believe he allowed his agent to talk him into taking this part. The lack of an interpersonal spark isn't confined to the relationship between Bridges and Reynolds. It's also missing from the interaction between Bridges and Mary-Louise Parker (who plays the R.I.P.D. boss and Roy's quasi-love interest) and Reynolds and Stephanie Szostak (who plays Nick's wife, Julia). Kevin Bacon is in "bad Kevin Bacon" mode, doing a lot of smirking and scowling.

One idea that could have been interesting had it been better handled is the concept that Roy and Nick inhabit new bodies. The "comedy" aspect of this is that Roy's avatar is a blond bombshell and Nick's is an old Asian man. The problem isn't the idea, it's the method of its handling. Director Robert Schwentke seems at a loss how to integrate this effectively into the story. So we're given occasional glimpses of the "appearance bodies" but most of the time it's Bridges and Reynolds. From a financial sense, this is logical (since Bridges and Reynolds are getting much bigger paychecks than Marisa Miller and James Hong) but, from a story standpoint, it's inconsistent and poorly realized, and the potential for comedy isn't used to its full extent (possibly because some of the better jokes are prevented by the PG-13 rating).

What surprised and disappointed me the most about R.I.P.D. is how bland the entire thing feels. The subject matter has undergone multiple layers of sanitization. The material lies on the screen, rotting and festering and consuming 90 minutes from the life of every man, woman, and child in the audience. It's not one of those awful, get-me-out-of-here motion pictures that turns into an exercise in self-immolation for those who sit through the entire thing. Instead, it's more likely to bring on an overpowering feeling of lethargy through boredom. There's no discernible energy on screen and that is conferred to the audience. R.I.P.D., R.I.P.

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