How Bad Is…R.I.P.D. (2013)?
This mash-up of Ghostbusters and Men in Black died at the box office but should it go to movie heaven…or movie hell?
With Deadpool 2 out in theaters this weekend, I knew I had to dust off one of Ryan Reynolds less beloved cinematic offerings. The obvious choice would have been X-Men Origins Wolverine, but that felt too easy. Everyone knows that film stinks, and everyone’s picked its misguided corpse over already. Second pick would have been one of Reynolds other super hero fiascos…but we already did Green Lantern! So I figured I’d pick his other comic book adaptation: R.I.P.D. It seems like a natural fit for our How Bad Is It? series: it barely scraped together 78 million dollars at the box office against a 130 million dollar budget and it has the lowest score of any Ryan Reynolds movie on Rotten Tomatoes. Let’s dig this cadaver up and decide if it should get a second shot at life or if it should be left to Rest In Peace.
Nick (Ryan Reynolds) is a Boston cop with a guilty conscience. Despite having stayed on the straight and narrow for 15 years on the force, he gives into temptation and swipes some valuables from a crime scene at the behest of his less than honest partner (Kevin Bacon). When Nick tries to go clean and return the goods, his crooked partner shoots him in the back.
Normally Nick’s misdeeds would land him in the bad place, but he’s given a second chance because he was a talented cop: if he joins the Rest In Peace Department he gets a shot at redemption. Along with a new partner, Roy (Jeff Bridges), his job is to find departed souls on Earth, called “deados”, that have snuck out of hell and return them to eternal judgement.
What Went Wrong?
- Identity Crisis. R.I.P.D. feels so much like other, better action comedies that it really struggles to set itself apart. The most striking analogy is to Men in Black: you have a wise-cracking new agent assigned to a stodgy old-timer in a secretive agency that deals with wacky CGI bad guys. R.I.P.D. is such a blatant copy of that film that it suffers tremendously from the comparison. Add in the ghost hunting schtick from Ghostbusters and all of the time-worn buddy cop comedy tropes and you get a film that can’t shake the vibe of being a crass knock-off.
- Lack of Chemistry. Unoriginal films are nothing new. The young rookie plus stodgy veteran bit has been done a million times in films, and it keeps getting done because it works. If you get the right talent on board, that is. Ryan Reynolds is really good at playing a charming rogue and Jeff Bridges is really good at playing an endearing curmudgeon…in other movies. Here, they both seem out of sync. Reynolds is forced to play the straight man too much, and Bridges is flailing around as the comic relief for most of the film. If it was a deliberate role reversal like Kevin Hart and The Rock pull off in CIA, that would be one thing. In R.I.P.D. it looks like the script and director can’t decide who is going to do what in a given scene with any consistency.
- Whatever the Hell Jeff Bridges was Doing. Adding to the headache of characters ping-ponging between wacky and serious is Jeff Bridges bizarre performance. His cowboy drawl sounds like he’s got a mouth full of cotton balls. His character’s mannerisms and constant mood swings feel less like an eccentricity and more like a pathological disorder. The script has him doing all manner of bizarre things like messily shoveling Indian food into his mouth during an interrogation or babbling on about how his corpse was desecrated by coyotes ad nauseum that make his character seem unhinged and demented. Maybe that’s what the director wanted, since Bridges is obviously leaning into it, but it’s off-putting to the audience to say the least.
What Went Right?
- Ryan Reynolds is Charming as Always. Reynolds tends to be a charmer, even when you hate his guts like in Van Wylder. Here, he’s not only engaging as a sharp tongued rogue, he’s also got a really strong through-line of being a devoted husband. His scenes with his wife Julia, played by Stephanie Szostack, are some of the best in the film as both actors have an endearing rapport. Even when the film makes their relationship weird (as an agent of R.I.P.D., Nick has a new identity so his wife sees him as an old Asian man, played by the criminally under-used James Wong) they manage to be compelling. I wish R.I.P.D. had ditched Jeff Bridges and gone for a quirky comedic take on Ghost with Nick and Julia instead of rehashing Men in Black for the undead crowd.
- The Movie Moves Along Briskly. There is potentially a lot to unpack with the concept behind R.I.P.D., and there is always the temptation to work as much lore as possible into an adaptation of a comic book series, but this film manages to get you the information you need in a timely manner without fussing about. Marie-Louise Parker plays the head of the department, and she adroitly hustles both Reynolds and the audience through the set-up in an effective and funny scene. The rest of the film then unfolds in an efficient and well-paced manner. There was only one time I wish I had more backstory to this universe and only a couple of times where I wish the characters would stop talking and get back to busting
ghosts“deados”. The story may be predictable, but it doesn’t waste its time.
- Interesting Camera Work and Effects. There are some really great shots in the early film, such that I was more interested in what the cameraman was doing than what was going on in the story. As Nick is headed into a drug bust, the camera weaves back and forth between Reynolds and Kevin Bacon, mimicking an unseen third police officer who is moving from cover to cover just one step behind them. When Nick dies, time freezes in the drug bust shootout, with bullets frozen in midair and the fire of exploding barrels caught in a lovely snow-globe of destruction.
The CG in the film is a mixed bag, since the “deados” are mostly silly looking, but the camera really knows how to treat them as if they were concrete objects in the shot. During a car chase we have fake debris and cars falling out of the sky, and they always have realistic impact that keeps your immersion in the sequence. Similarly, when a CG Jeff Bridges is getting dragged around by a monster he’s lassoed, he looks a little fake but the dynamic of how he is moving in space and the objects he collides with all look natural. Director Robert Shwentke may not have a good read on his characters, but he certainly has an eye for a well designed and well executed action sequence.
How Bad Is It?
Not that bad, actually. For a breezy summer flick, it’s right in the middle of the pack. It’s certainly not as much cheese-ball fun as stuff like Independence Day or Pacific Rim, but it’s not a complete misfire like Wild Wild West or the second Independence Day flick. Lesser known comic book adaptations have a spotty record due to their unique pro’s and con’s: you lack the installed fan base of a Superman or Spider-Man for instant recognition, but you also have more freedom to take risks and play loose with the genre conventions. You can get really stylish and weird treats like Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy series, or you can get ponderous dreck like Jonah Hex (don’t think I forgot about you, Josh Brolin, your turn is next!)
On the whole, R.I.P.D. is a mildly entertaining romp that is quickly forgotten. It’s too similar to better films like the original Ghostbusters to really make a name for itself. It lacks the compelling charisma between its leads that Men In Black could fall back on when its stories got stale. A really unique comic book universe could have made for more interest in the film as a going concern, but overall R.I.P.D.’s story feels unremarkable. Rest In Peace Department is not an egregiously bad movie, it is just an unnecessary one.