Isn't it more than a little weird that director Robert Schwentke's R.I.P.D. just so happens to be opening alongside Red 2, a film that just so happens to be the sequel to Schwentke's last film, Red?
Isn't it even weirder that Red 2, a mediocre film at best, is actually a much better film than the almost godawful R.I.P.D. even though Schwentke's Red is a much better film than both of them?
Things that make you go hmmmm.
Dean Parisot, whose last feature film was Galaxy Quest, took over for Red 2 while Schwentke picked up the reins on this film, an action/dramedy based upon Peter M. Lenkov's Dark Horse Comic about a team of undead police officers working for the Rest in Peace Department.
Sound like a droll idea? You can't possibly imagine how incredibly droll it is.
Ryan Reynolds plays Nick, a slightly dirty Boston cop who finds himself at the wrong end of a bullet to the face courtesy of his even dirtier partner, Hayes (Kevin Bacon). While Nick technically shouldn't have had much choice but to face pretty major judgment for his dirty deeds, he's got skills that will be useful for the Rest in Peace Department and so he gets a chance to prove himself worthy of facing a different fate.
Maybe it's sort of like Defending Your Life except with cops, bullets, monsters and the fate of the world hanging in the balance?
Once he interviews with Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker), he gets partnered up with Roy (Jeff Bridges), an old wild, wild west lawman who has been hanging around the R.I.P.D. for hundreds of years.
I thought about Defending Your Life. I thought about Men in Black. I thought about Monkeybone. In other words, I thought about three films that are all infinitely more entertaining than this formulaic, bland and convoluted mess of a film.
While there's no doubt that R.I.P.D. is meant to have a bit of that graphic novel feel, far too often it feels more like a cheap version of Ghostbusters and even more often the special effects fail to climb high enough to obtain B-movie status. R.I.P.D. actually could have been a lot of fun if it had gone for more of that quirky Ghostbusters or Monkeybone vibe, but Schwentke can't seem to decide of the film is meant to be an action film, a drama or an outright comedy and as a result it really doesn't succeed with any of the three.
From watching the trailers, you might catch a glimpse of the potential for the film. This is especially true with the always committed Jeff Bridges as a grizzled lawman who is far too often forced to play it even straighter than Sandra Bullock in the recent The Heat. Bridges certainly has his moments in the film, but the film's real stars are likely supporting players Mary-Louise Parker and James Hong.
Parker is a hoot as the supervisor for Boston's R.I.P.D., a woman with an obvious "past" of some sort with Roy and an evil little gleam in her eyes that makes you wish she'd been a lot more central to the film's plot. Hong, on the other hand, takes what was no doubt a one-note character on paper and brings him to life. You see, one of the rules for the undead cops is that they can't actually appear as themselves while they're back down on earth. While Roy is sort of blessed to be living it up as a vivacious blonde, Nick gets saddled as an old Asian man.
Admit it. It even sounds stale. The good thing is that Hong, whom you likely recognize most from his vocal work in the Kung Fu Panda films, has a field day with the character's potential and gives the audience a good idea of how much fun could have been had with the film.
While Ryan Reynolds isn't bad here, R.I.P.D. is definitely a reminder of that long period of time where Reynolds was serving up bad comedy after bad comedy until the last 3-4 years when he started picking up some critical praise for both his comic and dramatic work.
There's really not much doubt where R.I.P.D. is going, and there's also no doubt that it involves a certain amount of revenge taken upon Nick's old partner, played with Kevin Bacon's usual spark of badness. The whole end of the world scenario is played out rather lamely, while even the film's tech credits are generally sub-par. It's not very often that I find myself bashing the sound mix on a big budget film, but the entire sound design on R.I.P.D. is off balance and even distracting in certain scenes. Christophe Beck's original score doesn't do much to help the cause here, while Alwin Kuchler's camera work is disappointing given that this is the guy who lensed such solid pics as the recent doc Marley plus the beautifully photographed Hanna and Proof.
With Red 2, a far lesser film than its predecessor, and the vastly superior Turbo also opening up this might be a good weekend to catch up on films you've missed unless you're a parent and taking your kids to the latest DreamWorks animated feature.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic