Film Review: ‘R.I.P.D.’

This generally uninspired mashup of 'Ghostbusters' and 'Men in Black' benefits from a hilariously free-associative performance by Jeff Bridges.

Thank heavens — or at least the “Department of Eternal Affairs” — for Jeff Bridges, whose hilariously free-associative performance as a 19th-century frontier marshal-turned-21st-century undead lawman is like an adrenaline shot to the heart of “R.I.P.D.” A generally uninspired mashup of “Ghostbusters” and “Men in Black” (plus a sprinkling of “Big Trouble in Little China”), the film is most notable for having had its obituary written by the press, and even its own studio’s marketing department, well before its release. While the end product still seems all but certain to turn up DOA at this weekend’s box office, the pic itself isn’t quite the calamity some portended, due largely to Bridges, some genuinely impressive visual effects and one of the few running times of the season well under two hours.

Like most of the summer’s other headline-grabbing underperformers (“After Earth,” “White House Down,” “The Lone Ranger” and “Pacific Rim”), “R.I.P.D.” bears the lipstick traces of a hoped-for franchise starter, with a comicbook pedigree, buddy-movie architecture and the nine-figure budget that seems to have become the universally accepted price of doing business in today’s Hollywood. At least it can be said that the money is on the screen here, especially during a Doomsday finale that turns downtown Boston into a kind of Wild West of the living dead. What’s most lacking is that thing only time — not money — can buy: a truly inventive and original script. (Pic was adapted by the “Clash of the Titans” team of Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi from Peter M. Lenkov’s Dark Horse comic series.)

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Not exactly zombies in the classical sense, the pic’s pesky “deados” are troubled souls who, thanks to the equivalent of a clerical error in the great cosmic filing cabinet, have remained stuck on Earth instead of moving on to heaven or hell. The longer a deado stays in the world of the living, the more trouble it causes; hence the need for the titular Rest in Peace Department, deceased police officers who themselves manage to postpone Judgment Day by rooting out unruly deados, one beastie at a time. Minimum term of service: a century.

New to the force is Reynolds’ Nick Walker, first seen among the living as one of Beantown’s not-quite finest, a 15-year veteran of the force who has recently, in a moment of weakness, stolen evidence from a bust together with his longtime partner, Bobby (Kevin Bacon). When Nick confides that he’s having second thoughts and wishes to turn himself in, Bobby responds sympathetically by putting a bullet through his partner’s face.

At R.I.P.D. central, a busy hive of activity clearly modeled on production designer Bo Welch’s “Men in Black” HQ, Nick finds himself briefed by a world-weary personnel manager (sly, sardonic Mary-Louise Parker in the pic’s answer to Rip Torn’s Agent Zed), then paired with Roy (short for “Roycephus”) Pulsifer, a Stetson-wearing, six-shooter-twirling anachronism played by Bridges as a cross between “True Grit’s” Rooster Cogburn and Yosemite Sam. After that, it’s back to Boston, where Nick and Roy quickly pick up the scent of a deado conspiracy to rebuild an ancient totem (known as the Staff of Jericho) capable of reversing the order of the cosmos and literally making the dead rain down upon the living.

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The flimsy setup is basically an excuse for a series of run-ins between the officers and the deados, who walk the streets disguised as humans but whose beastly selves can be lured out (in an amusingly dada conceit) by Indian spices. The elaborate creature transformations can be fun to watch, though none of the deados leave in individual impression on par with, say, “Ghostbuster'”s beloved Slimer. In one of the pic’s promising but underutilized comic ideas, R.I.P.D. officers themselves appear disguised on Earth — a system designed to prevent them from reaching out to former loved ones. For Nick, this means he becomes a doddering old Chinese man (veteran character actor James Hong) waving a banana instead of a gun, while Roy becomes a whiplash-inducing, buxom blonde (supermodel Marisa Miller). But director Robert Schwentke doesn’t seem to have figured out how to make the transitions work visually, and in the end the very game Hong and Miller have perhaps two minutes of screen time between them.

Reynolds, who proved himself a deft comic performer in 2005’s “Just Friends,” is largely confined to the straight-man role here. Bridges, however, hurls himself into Roy with such comic abandon that it’s tough to know how much of the character was there on the page and how much was being invented by the actor himself as he went along. (Certainly, the entire movie has the feel of one in which much was made up on the fly.) Rattling his trap nonstop, with a particular fondness for the gory details of his earthly demise (picked apart by coyotes in the desert), Roy doesn’t suffer fools or new partners gladly, but can turn suddenly fragile if anyone dares criticize him, at one point whipping out a squeezebox and wailing a hilariously maudlin ballad called “The Better Man” (co-written by Bridges and regular Coen brothers collaborator T-Bone Burnett). Like Johnny Depp’s work in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, it’s a performance that seems to say, “Look, I’m here for the payday. You know it. I know it. But as long as I’m here, I’m going to make things interesting for myself.”

Moment by moment, “R.I.P.D.” is diverting enough to keep 8-year-olds — and inner 8-year-olds — entertained as the mercury rises and the A/C struggles to keep up. But the premise, and isolated bits throughout, glimmer with just enough promise to make you wish Joe Dante had directed this in his prime, or anyone with more of a feel for comedy than Schwentke, who brings the same slickly professional but style-less sheen to everything he does, whether claustrophobic thriller (“Flightplan”), romantic melodrama (“The Time Traveler’s Wife”) or ostensible farce.

German lenser Alwin Kuchler’s handsome Boston location shooting fronts a generally solid tech package.

Film Review: 'R.I.P.D.'

Reviewed at Regal Cinemas E-Walk, New York, July 18, 2013. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 98 MIN.

Production

A Universal release and presentation of an Original Film/Dark Horse Entertainment production. Produced by Neal H. Moritz, Mike Richardson, Michael Fottrell. Executive producers, Ori Marmur, Ryan Reynolds, Jonathon Komack Martin, David Dobkin, Keith Goldberg, Peter M. Lenkov. 

Crew

Directed by Robert Schwentke. Screenplay, Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi; story, David Dobkin, Hay, Manfredi, based on the Dark Horse comic created by Peter M. Lenkov. Camera (Deluxe color, widescreen), Alwin Kuchler; editor, Mark Helfrich; music, Christophe Beck; production designer, Alec Hammond; supervising art director, Bruton Jones; art director, David E. Scott; set decorator, Kathy Lucas; set designers, Aric Cheng, Drew White, Geoff Hubbard, Sam Page, Lauren Polizzi; costume designer, Susan Lyall; sound (Datasat/Dolby Digital/SDDS), Tom Williams; sound designer, Jon Title; supervising sound editor, Dave McMoyler; re-recording mixers, Michael Minkler, Tony Lamberti, Greg Townsend; visual effects supervisor, Michael J. Wassel; visual effects, Image Engine, Level 256; supervising stunt coordinator, David Ellis; stunt coordinators, Corey Eubanks, Mike Gunther; associate producer, Alex Westmore; second unit director, David Ellis; second unit camera, Gary Capo; assistant director, Geoff Hansen; casting, Deborah Aquila, Tricia Wood.

With

Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Bacon, Mary-Louise Parker, Stephanie Szostak, James Hong, Marisa Miller.

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  1. G. Jardoness says:

    A thorough and deservedly scathing review.

    Laying the results at the feet of the genre or the ‘mash-up’ of material it sought to draw from belies a systemic issue with the industry itself, as it suffers all the drawbacks of manufacturing, (derivative, shoddy, and cookie-cutter), but enjoys none of its advantages, (experience, consistency, or economy).

    R.I.P.D. could’ve been a good movie. As mentioned, it drew from; “Ghostbusters”, “Men in Black”, “Big Trouble in Little China”, and “Beetlejuice”… And yet, with all that, and a budget which, no doubt, exceeded them all put together, the filmmakers only demonstrated what little they learned and how thoroughly overwhelmed they were… Unfortunately, its title’s not only an epitaph, but a punchline.

  2. How many times? Pacific Rim is NOT an underperformed! It in fact has over-performed in the North American market and is relying on, and has ALWAYS BEEN relying on, big takings in China, South Korea, Japan, Thailand and Russia. Only South Korea and Russia have opened so far and BOTH of those opened well enough to suggest that the film could get close to the takings of Transformers 3 (A different genre, but perhaps the closet we can get to a barometer for Pac Rim). That being the case, if the film grosses midway between Transformers 1 (lowest grossing) and Transformers 3(highest grossing) at these markets, four of which are the home of these genres) then it would gross over $m from those markets alone. There’s also the fact that the film is pacing ahead of the like of Rise of The Apes, World War Z and Prometheus, all of which easily surpassed $m internationally. So with a target of $400m – $450m to be “good enough for profit once TV Blu-ray and rental kick in and hence a ‘Franchise’ despite a box office loss( just like Batman Begins, Star Trek (2009), Snow White & The Huntsman and Tron Legacy): and a target of $450m -$500m to hit profit at the box office, we are way to close to the films beginning to start calling it an underperformed.

    It is by no means outlandish to think that the film could make $100m in North America and $250m= in the Oriental market s and Russia. Leaving the whole of the rest of the planet to get from $50m to $150m; out of the question? No. If anything it is what you should expect to happen; the ‘failure’, the big loss, that is the long-shot, the less likely outcome.

    Of course this homage to the DaiKaiju and giant Mech genres could be hated by the masters of the genres and the film could open huge and tail off quickly, you can never tell in this business; but Pacific Rim opened bigger than expected in North America and is pacing ahead of several “big” films that gross over $250m, or over $300m at the international box office; how is THAT under-performing again?

    • You may need to come to peace with this man. Pacific Rim has made less than $60 million after one week. It still trails Grown Ups 2. It’s not going to come close to making what more modestly budgeted The Heat has made and at this point doesn’t look to be able to do much better than $100 mill. $100 million for that flick is not going to instigate a ticket tape parade. It just means a few less execs wont jump out of a higher window. Saying it did better than expected opening weekend is only a reflection how HOW MUCH WORSE it could have done. $25 million expectation is not a mind blowing hurdle to clear. At a $200 mill price tag plus over another hundred in marketing, it’s an under performer. That doesn’t mean it should have any impact on your enjoyment of the finished product at all. I saw the Rocketeer to a standing ovation audience back in the 90s and that movie tanked with general audiences. Does it mean anything to my enjoyment of that movie? Nope. I personally loved the John Carter movie. I enjoyed Waterworld (actually now that is one that did at least a bit better than it’s reputation, brining in over a hundred mill more than budget) and Big Trouble in Little China is one of my favorite movies. I would have loved to see any of these as franchises. The cold reality, like Buckaroo Banzai is that there isn’t going to be a Pacific Rim 2. There could be an anime or, heaven’s forbid, a straight to video follow up, but Pacific Rim is not blowing up Hollywood’s skirt. If it was anything close to not being a headache you’d be seeing articles written like what has been done for World War Z.

  3. Zak says:

    This review wasn’t the least bit harsh. It’s actually one of the nicer reviews that I have read. I read no bashing of Ryan Reynolds what-so-ever. Why are you defending an awful looking movie that even the studio thinks is awful? Do you have money in this soon to be flop or something?

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