R.I.P.D. Review

R.I.P.D. desperately wanted to be a franchise. It will never happen, but man did it want to be. What's been done here is director Robert Schwentke (RED) decided that instead of sticking with the last obscure comic book adaptation he made and successfully turned into a hit (which coincidentally opened against this film) he would go on and make another one with the hopes that he could push another three or four films out of it and be set for the rest of his career. It makes sense and they obtained all the right parts to make R.I.P.D. a flashy summer bonanza. We have the two big name leading men, we have a large enough budget to pull off some serious action scenes and CGI and they have source material that in some corner of the globe has a fan base that might appreciate it while also riffing on plenty of other, very successful, summer blockbusters before it. Why this didn't work at all though seems to be from a lack of any kind of faith in the project. Though, the studio shouldn't have been surprised by its final product as this comes to us courtesy of the guys who wrote such things as The Tuxedo, Aeon Flux and Clash of the Titans. What exactly were they expecting? They wanted a mindless actioner that told the familiar story of a buddy cop film where the older, experienced cop gets a rookie partner and they fight at first and can't stand one another only to have that relationship blossom into something special by the end of their first adventure together. That, with Men in Black-level genre elements thrown in. It is an easy comparison to make, but that is essentially what R.I.P.D. is. Take out the aliens and replace them with dead people, take out the government and replace it with God. Simple as that. Hire a few studio writers and a director who was able to make a profitable enough hit with his previous potential franchise-starter and you have all the ingredients, right? The failure of this film presents solid proof that the system doesn't always work and the calculated way in which these studios try to push new franchises down our throats doesn't pay off when you're trying too hard and R.I.P.D. is trying way too hard to be something it didn't have to be.

Nick (Ryan Reynolds) is the newest member of the R.I.P.D.
When Nick (Ryan Reynolds) wakes one morning to his beautiful wife Julia (Stephanie Szostak) it seems nothing could be wrong with his life, that is, except for the mysterious object he buried in their backyard the night before. What this object is has something to do with Nick's long-time partner, Hayes (Kevin Bacon), who found it unexpectedly on a bust and decided to keep it to allow them some extra cash. Nick is having issues dealing with the morality of the situation, but taking this to his partner probably isn't the best idea. In responding to a tip from an informant Nick and Hayes (see, they might have even been able to make a TV spin-off) the two cops get themselves in the middle of a nasty gunfight with Nick ending up on the wrong side of a gun. It may be considered somewhat of a spoiler to say whose gun that is, but I'm sure you can guess and if not, this movie may actually be perfect for you. After being shot there is a legitimately stylish shot where Nick walks through a frozen scene of gunfire and bodies in mid-air and mid-explosion. Once he reaches the outside of the empty storage building where these type of gunfights always take place in the movies he is sucked up from the solid ground and into the heavens with thousands of other bodies only to be interrupted mid-flight and re-routed to the Rest in Peace Department (R.I.P.D.) Boston division where a livewire proctor as played by Mary Louise-Parker fills Nick in on the rules of the world that we will need for the movie to play out just as predictably as we might expect. In the process of dealing with the fact that he's just died Nick is also introduced to his new partner Roy (Jeff Bridges) an old west law man who's been on the force longer than three of Nick's lifetimes. The two of them naturally butt heads at first as Roy is overbearing and has lost any trace of emotion towards what it was like to be newly dead. Nick is torn by the legacy he's left with his wife as that mystery figure behind his death makes his way into the role Nick vacated while his motives are clearly of a bigger scale than the earthly Nick would have ever been able to grasp.

It has been clear since the first trailer premiered and throughout the remainder of the promotional campaign that this film wasn't going to be very good if having any redeeming qualities at all. I certainly expected the worst and yet as I sat there and watched the film I have to say I actually chuckled several times at the pure ridiculousness of Bridge's performance and the forced yet sometimes charismatic chemistry between he and Reynolds. I enjoy both actors as Bridges is always, in some form or fashion, entertaining to watch and he has his moments here, but for the majority of the time it simply felt he'd walked straight off the set of True Grit and recycled that character adding just a little more camp to the characteristics and taking the paycheck without looking back. Reynolds has always exuded a charming yet slightly insulting persona. He always gives off that coolest guy in the room vibe, but he knows it and he flaunts it to the point everyone is tired of looking at him. While his projects have been hit or miss he usually does well when he has someone to play off of. I'd always imagined him as a straight up comedy star, but he's diverted from that path applying himself to any genre that calls for him and has the possibility of being a blockbuster. He has showed real chops in smaller projects like Buried where he was literally trapped in a box for 90 minutes and that film was thrilling as hell based solely on his performance, but when it comes to stuff like R.I.P.D. or Green Lantern he seems to do little more than resort to his schtick and hope that no one notices how lazy he is actually being. These kinds of performances are understandable as it was likely clear from reading the title much less the entire script exactly what they were getting themselves into here, but it could have made for an interestingly twisted film were it placed in the hands of a director like James Gunn. With Schwentke though, he keeps it completely conventional adding no quirkiness to a script that is screaming for dark humor and a satirical take on the after life.

Roy (Jeff Bridges) has been on the R.I.P.D force for far too long. 
In the first paragraph I mentioned the point that R.I.P.D. was trying far too hard to be something it wasn't and that is simply because the material doesn't lend itself as well to what mainstream audiences want to see. They've seen it before and they've seen it done better over a decade ago. That isn't to say if the eye of the beholder had changed things could have turned out differently, but as it stands what we have is a film that perfectly exemplifies what every person who only attends a few movies a year thinks every blockbuster looks and sounds like. It is a hollow project of big set pieces and pointless special effects that eat up the budget while remaining slim on story or substance. What was really disappointing about the film though is how bad of an advantage it takes of its first rate cast. Having already discussed Reynolds and Bridges it is worth mentioning that I didn't even realize Kevin Bacon was in this movie until I checked out the films stats prior to seeing it. He does fine enough work as the typical baddie (sorry if I actually gave anything away there, I did save it for the last paragraph though), but he is given a sketch of an archetype on paper whose only present to serve as a connection between the worlds of our newly minted protagonist. The same could be said for Louise-Parker who nearly stole the show in RED 2, against John Malkovich playing crazy mind you, as she is only given limited screen time and allows her natural charm to take over what had to be literally nothing on paper. Her best lines feel improvised and they are some of the funnier parts of the entire picture. The one running gag concerning how Nick and Roy are seen to everyone in the real world is admittedly pretty funny as they don't overdo it, but show the two acting as a small Chinese man and a supermodel (James Hong and Marissa Miller) at just the right times. Having Miller speak in Roy's 1800's Sheriff talk is especially pleasing, but it is all too little too late. R.I.P.D. may have never stood a chance of reaching what the studio initially hoped for, but the surprisingly packed crowd on a Tuesday discount night at the local theater sure found themselves entertained by what was on screen and I don't feel like when they catch this film on late night TV in three years that they will change the channel. If that's the best that can be said for the film, hey, at least it's something good.