‘R.I.P.D.’ Review: Even a Gleeful Jeff Bridges Can’t Save This Arrestingly Bad Adaptation
Okay, Ryan Reynolds, you can stop now. Step away from the comic book properties. They’re not doing you any favors, and you have a very nice gig voicing animated properties that’s surely much easier than jumping around in front of a green screen all day and still looking like an idiot afterwards, even when all the effects are added. Really! Turbo may sound entirely stupid, but I laugh in a somewhat admiring manner every time I hear its plot explained (please tell me how your NASCAR-racing snail doesn’t get road rash), and I really did enjoy The Croods. Just focus on the good things in your professional life and stop making films like The Green Lantern and R.I.P.D. It’s just embarrassing now. For all of us.
Based on the Dark Horse comic of the same name by Peter M. Lenkov, Robert Schwentke’s spin on R.I.P.D. appears to have taken most of the originality and cleverness straight out of its source material in favor of a crafting a cheap-looking Men in Black rip-off. The film centers on Boston detective Nick Walker (Reynolds), killed off within the film’s first ten minutes by his crooked partner Bobby Hayes (Kevin Bacon, whose talents are wasted as he attempts to layer over a Boston accent on an already sneering performance), and sent straight up to a purgatory known as the R.I.P.D. (the Rest in Peace Department, because why not). Turns out, Nick can’t get into heaven without putting in one hundred years of work for the R.I.P.D., because he just might have helped Hayes with just a bit of his illegal stuff, even if he did quickly regret it and want to do right by the pile of stolen gold they filched from a crime scene. Saddled with a growling new partner (Jeff Bridges) and a seriously silly boss (Mary-Louise Parker), Nick agrees to the terms of his new gig and tries to get to work rounding up escaped souls while also trying to clear his name back on Earth (where his mourning wife, played by Stephanie Szostak, now thinks he was the truly crooked one).
The rules of the R.I.P.D. world are mostly unclear, and even attempting to follow along with the film’s action demands not only a suspension of disbelief, but also an actual suspension of intelligence. The R.I.P.D. mainly exists to contain dead bad guys (“deados”) who have (somehow?) managed to escape the bonds of the afterlife and hoof it back to Earth, where they cause all kinds of trouble. The effects of the rotting souls on the human world are one of the few interesting elements of the film – wherever an escaped soul is, destruction follows. Amusingly described by Bridges’ Old West lawman Roy Pulsipher as “broken shit,” the destruction can run the gamut from global warming to bad cell reception, and it’s a concept that aids Nick and Roy in their deado hunting while also providing one of the few funny and understandable bits of the entire outing.
However, it’s the film’s technical aspects that sink R.I.P.D. spectacularly and absolutely. The film’s 3D post-conversion does the final product absolutely no favors, particularly because Schwentke has already overloaded the picture with deliriously quick cuts, sickening snap zooms, and jaunty angles surely meant to approximate inventive comic book styling. Worse still is the CGI, which frequently comes across as simply lazy and amateur. The film looks both ugly and shoddy whenever it tries to pile on technical elements, and any film that centers on soul-rotting “monsters” and the afterlife all but demands plenty of technical pieces. It’s telling that the most humorous repeated gag of the film – that Nick and Roy’s earthly bodies look like James Hong and model Marisa Miller, respectively – is the one that demands zero technical trickery.
At least Jeff Bridges appears to be having fun with his part – chewing scenery like so much Old West tobacco, unintelligibly growling out about half of his dialogue, and relishing repeated retellings of Roy’s death (it also involved a crooked partner and, weirdly enough, a pack of skull-raping coyotes). Reynolds isn’t stretching his talents, however, still cracking wise and looking annoyed with just about everything happening around him. Occasionally, however, these dueling spirits match up, and there are brief moments when at least the pairing of Bridges and Reynolds shines.
While the final act of R.I.P.D. attempts to create some citywide chaos in downtown Boston, complete with ripped-apart buildings (Man of Steel, anyone?) and a magical light from the sky (hi, The Avengers), the film will at least be able to avoid accusations that its bent on wanton destruction, if only because said destruction looks so shoddy and because the city is oddly free of human beings. Yes, despite taking place in downtown Boston in the middle of a weekday, audiences will be hard-pressed to find a single terrified citizen fleeing the scene. Did the film’s reportedly $130m budget not account for extras? No, really? At the very least, it’s indicative of the sort of lazy, bored filmmaking that went into churning out R.I.P.D. for the big screen and which will undoubtedly turn off the scant audiences doomed to sit through the film.
The Upside: Jeff Bridges certainly has a fun time with his part, occasionally amusing chemistry between Reynolds and Bridges, the introduction of a somewhat interesting new (afterlife) world.
The Downside: A technical failure – from the 3D to the CGI to everything in between, emotionally unengaging, not nearly as funny as it thinks it is (or should be), a stunning disregard for laying out clear or understandable rules.
On the Side: The first sequel to director Robert Schwentke’s previous film Red, is also opening this weekend. (It’s also not very good.)