Is it going to be like this all year? The critics were so incredibly wrong about The Lone Ranger (2013), they were mildly wrong about White House Down (2013), and I hope to find that they are wildly wrong about Only God Forgives (2013). R.I.P.D. (2013) doesn’t have a Rotten Tomatoes score just yet, but I’m going to guess that it has something in the realm of a 40 coming to it. It deserves a 75. Here’s what I wrote before the movie started: “First of all, I though it looked funny. Second, while Ryan Reynolds may have lost my implicit trust after Buried (2010), Jeff Bridges has more than enough for the two of them.” I thought I was going to have to do my spine an injury defending this movie. But I don’t because it is funny and neither actor brings shame to their name. R.I.P.D. is a visually stimulating film with far more laughs than groans.
Nick (Ryan Reynolds) is one of Boston P.D.’s finest. He’s lapsed somewhat and, with his partner Hayes (Kevin Bacon), took gold from a drug dealer in the hopes of getting some financial security for he and his wife Julia (Stephanie Szostak). But his conscience pricks and he tells Hayes that he’s going to put his gold into evidence. Hayes isn’t too keen on that and takes an opportunity during a raid to kill Nick. But Nick doesn’t move on to the other side. Instead, he’s dragooned into the Rest In Peace Department which tracks down “deado’s” who have evaded the journey to the afterlife and spread decay and badness around them. Nick struggles somewhat to find his place in the R.I.P.D. with his new partner, the cantankerous Roy (Jeff Bridges), who died sometime in the later part of the 19th century.
I think the single biggest failure in the film is that it does not allow itself to go beyond its ‘origin story’ flavoring. When our heroes come across some sort of supernatural plot, they are begrudgingly acknowledged for the finding but then punished with the threat of oblivion for the failure to execute their duty sufficiently. The better film would have established Nick as an intelligent investigator who brings the R.I.P.D. to a new level in that field. I think that could have been a more interesting way to unload all of its mythology rather than your typical, five minute segment of forced exposition. R.I.P.D. you may be unsurprised to learn, is based upon a comic book series.
The obvious comparison is to Men in Black (1997). The subject matter is not wholly dissimilar, but while Men in Black feels very lived-in, R.I.P.D. is entirely computer generated. That sounds very much like a disparaging remark, but director Robert Schwentke’s camera work (cinematography by Alwin H. Küchler) is slick and fluid. There’s plenty of destruction, probably too much if I’m honest, but the bulk of it is consigned to the finale. But what the two films have most in common is a good dynamic between enjoyable actors. If anything R.I.P.D. adds a little color to the older cop, making up for its clichés with absurdity, to pass the time with more verbal sparring.
I knew about script doctors and script polishers before, but when I listened to the WTF podcast with guest Patton Oswalt, my mind was pretty well blown. The way he described it, I can never accurately judge the writing talents of screenwriters behind a comedy. So did Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi come up with the infinitely entertaining element whereby the living see our heroes in the bodies of comically unlike avatars? How about the running gag of what happened to Roy’s body? Nothing is sacred anymore.