We review R.I.P.D. – This supernatural action comedy has some sparks of life but is mostly dead on arrival

5 min read
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Ryan Reynolds has not been having a great year. As one after the other of his high profile films belly-flopped at the box office, I imagine he spent most nights getting blindly drunk on embarrassingly pink drinks with last year’s cinematic whipping boy, Taylor Kitsch.

And unfortunately for Reynolds, despite the fact that his latest film, the supernatural romp R.I.P.D., is all about heroes coming back to life, I doubt it will be offering much in the way of box office resurrections.

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Based on “Rest In Peace Department”, the Dark Horse comic created by Peter M. Lenkov, R.I.P.D. gets given the acronym treatment (a not-so-clever pun on the usual adjective used for Reynolds’ torso?) having its excess letters stripped out, along with most of its originality. Playing out like a mash-up of Men In BlackGhost and Ghostbusters, it boasts the type of story pitch that can readily be summed up in a comic book intro text bubble: Heaven recruits the best deceased lawmen through time to police the droves of malevolent spirits – called “Deados” – who still hang around in the land of the living, getting up to no good.

And the latest to join these paranomal police ranks is Nick Walker (Reynolds); a cop with a conscience, a pretty young wife (Stephanie Szostak) and unfortunately also a face full of lead. Said lead delivered courtesy of Nick’s partner Bobby Hayes (Kevin Bacon), after Nick’s conscience got the better of him with regards to some mysterious gold the pair had discovered on a drug bust. They had initially planned to keep the gold to themselves, before Nick decided to go all law abiding citizen, much to Bobby’s lethal annoyment.

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Midway during the subsequent trip through the giant, digitally animated funnel of souls to the big donut shop in the sky, Nick finds himself suddenly yanked into a seat opposite product placement drinking Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker), director of the Boston Branch of R.I.P.D. She promptly inducts him into the afterlife police force, explaining that his services will go a long way to balancing the books for his final judgement, gives him a gun, a badge and a partner in the form of veteran 19th century lawman Roysephus “Roy” Pulsipher (Jeff Bridges) and sends him on his first case. Which, duuuuuuh, of course somehow all ties back into the mysterious gold that Walker just ate a shotgun sandwich for. Obviously.

Herein lies R.I.P.D.’s first problem: predictability. Obvious villains and plot points abound, as you’ve seen most of this in other, much better films before. And the little bits of story you won’t see coming, is only as a result of the fact that it’s all such kooky, inexplicable nonsense. When it’s revealed that Deados run around in normal looking bodies until exposed to the sight of, seriously, somebody eating Indian food – at which point they turn into the Hulk’s ugly, poorly rendered, CG hillbilly cousins – you have to wonder if writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi weren’t just making up the script by pulling random phrases out of a dishevelled hat. “Uh, we got ‘Deados’, ‘transformation’ and ‘Lamb Rogan Josh’, how are we going to put this together?…. Wait, I got it!”

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They do come up with a couple of hilarious ideas though – even if they don’t follow through on their full comedic potential – like the fact that while on Earth, R.I.P.D. officers assume undercover bodies, which in Nick and Roy’s respective cases are played by veteran Asian actor James Hong (sporting a banana instead of a firearm) and Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Marisa Miller. Yes, Jeff Bridges is a swimsuit model.

He is also the film’s biggest saving grace. Playing his rootin-tootin’ character like Wyatt Earp by way of Colonel Sanders and Yosemite Sam, Bridges simply injects life into every scene he’s in, with his over-the-top Southern accent and affectations often the biggest special effects on display. This is the exact opposite to Reynolds, who takes method acting a step too far by showing exactly as much vitality as a dead person normally does. Not helping his thespian sleepwalking is director Robert Schwentke’s inability to promote any sense of wonder or spectacle in the film’s bigger scenes, particularly those set in the afterlife where Mary-Louise Parker’s infectiously zingy performance provide the only memorable moments.

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At least, when things are Earth-side we get treated to some mindlessly fun, CG heavy action beats, that often border on cartoonishness – but in a good way – thanks to the extra durable undercover bodies that Roy and Nick posses. “You have a very impressive crumple zone,” Roy drawls to Nick at one stage, after the pair manage a seemingly physically impossible Wile E. Coyote impersonation.

These beats though, much like the film overall, feel like a Greatest Hits collection of sequences from other action romps, only not performed quite as well. And containing puzzling amounts of crazy. And while I’m sure some viewers will get some decent, brainless entertainment mileage out of it all, especially every time Jeff Bridges saunters into frame, this is definitely not a film to die for.

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Last Updated: October 3, 2013

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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