March 2021

R.I.P.D. (2013)

Film Title: R.I.P.D.DIRECTOR: Robert Schwentke

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


R.I.P.D. is one of the most depressing kinds of movies to sit through; a completely uninspired, by-the-numbers, unengaging, lazy film that literally offers nothing memorable.  Playing out something like a cross between Men in Black and Ghostbusters with a dash of Ghost tossed in for good measure, it’s billed as a supernatural action-comedy/buddy movie, but it doesn’t succeed in any direction.  It’s not funny (or at least not often enough to justify its existence) and it’s never exciting, no matter how much money it blows on splashy special effects.  It’s hard to say whether screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi (who also wrote the 2010 Clash of the Titans remake, which also wallowed in depressing mediocrity), director Robert Schwentke, or a combination are responsible for the complete lack of energy or originality, but R.I.P.D. is D.O.A.  This is the kind of movie worth checking out only if you’re feeling extremely bored and undemanding, and even then, it’s unlikely to alleviate your boredom.

At first glance, the premise sounds like it could have held some potential.  Boston cop Nick (Ryan Reynolds), after getting blown away during a drug bust by his crooked partner Hayes (Kevin Bacon)–who feared Nick ratting him out about some gold they helped themselves to earlier–is snatched from the jaws of uncertain Judgment and recruited by the R.I.P.D., Rest In Peace Department.  As curtly explained by his all-business superior (Mary-Louise Parker), the R.I.P.D. is made up of former lawmen of questionable ethics, given a choice between R.I.P.D. and Purgatory, now protecting the living from “deados”, morally unsavory deceased people who have cheated judgment and are still lurking around incognito on Earth.  Nick gets shoved into a partnership with grizzled, eccentric former 1800s lawman Roy (Jeff Bridges), and the odd couple stumbles across a plot involving Hayes and a band of deados to assemble an ancient artifact that can bring the dead back to Earth and essentially trigger the Apocalypse (or something like that, since it’s lazily explained and thinly-developed even by generic “ancient doomsday weapon” standards).  Meanwhile, in an equally thinly-developed subplot, Nick tries to reconnect with his wife Julia (Stephanie Szostak), whom Hayes also has designs on.

The premise could have had some potential, but R.I.P.D. feels terminally bland from beginning to end.  The plot is a patchwork quilt of other movies: Nick and Roy recall Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones from Men in Black with less chemistry, the “deados” plot recalls Ghostbusters, and the half-hearted Nick/Julia/Hayes love triangle is like an extremely thinly-developed knock-off of Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore/Tony Goldwyn in Ghost.  The movie literally doesn’t work on any level.  Jeff Bridges has an occasional amusing line, but overall it’s not very funny.  It’s never exciting.  The deados are more fatuous than threatening.  The Nick/Julia subplot is so half-baked that it generates no emotional reaction whatsoever.  From beginning to end, the movie is just “there”.

Ryan Reynolds, not the most impressive of actors at the best of times, brings nothing to his part.  Like the movie itself, he’s there.  In fairness, it can be hard even for much more accomplished actors than Reynolds to excel in material this bland (look no further than his own co-star Jeff Bridges), but Reynolds is equally lifeless whether butting heads with Roy or in a “touching” scene with Julia.  Jeff Bridges, by contrast, goes way over-the-top.  His zany portrayal of Roy is more energetic than Reynolds, and occasionally amusing, but among the characters on Bridges’ distinguished filmography, this is not one to write home about.  Tommy Lee Jones was more hilarious in the original Men in Black without seeming like he was trying so hard.  Kevin Bacon is in generic “evil Kevin Bacon” mode, meaning he smirks and sneers a lot and gets a few one-liners (a couple of which, in fairness, are moderately entertaining).  Mary-Louise Parker has some mildly amusing moments, and Stephanie Szostak makes no impression.

There are only two fairly minor plot points that could have been intriguing.  One is the freeze-frame effect used a couple times, where everything freezes except the protagonist, who wanders around a setting where everything is stopped but him; that was kind of cool.  The other is the idea that Nick and Roy appear in different forms to the living than they do to themselves.  To everyone else, the grizzled old lawman Roy looks like a blonde bombshell (Marisa Miller), while Nick to his chagrin learns he looks like an elderly Chinese man (James Hong).  This could have been amusing, but it’s barely even used, and after introducing the concept, the filmmakers seem at a loss as to how to integrate it into the action.

In a way, a completely “meh”-inducing yawn like R.I.P.D. is more depressing than a really truly godawful movie.  At least those can be fun to mock (some terrible movies are unintentionally downright hilarious).  Something like R.I.P.D. generates no reaction except the compulsion to spend the time by checking your phone.  It’s a waste of the time and money spent making it, and a waste of the time (hopefully not money) spent watching it.

*  1/2