After two excellent examples of what summer movies should be (The Lone Ranger and Pacific Rim), it was only a matter of time before we returned to this moviegoing season of ambivalence with Robert Schwentke’s R.I.P.D., a film just lousy enough to get us back on track. What we have here is a film that takes Men in Black (1997), Ghostbusters (1984) and just a pinch of Beetlejuice (1988), sucks the charm from them, and leaves a noisy, messy, dull excuse for a sci-fi action comedy piled in their stead. Worst of all — and consider it the great equalizer for dumb movies — R.I.P.D. just isn’t fun. You can get away with a lot if you can be entertaining, but R.I.P.D. doesn’t even have that going for it.
The film opens with our protagonist Nick (Ryan Reynolds), a Boston cop with loose morals, being murdered by his partner Hayes (Kevin Bacon). Nick ascends to the afterlife, where instead of facing judgment, he’s given a choice: risk facing an eternity of damnation thanks to a lifetime of poor choices, or join the Rest in Peace Department, a supernatural police force tasked with bringing the undead to justice. (Here, they’re called Deados, who become increasingly malformed monsters the longer they stay on earth.) Unfortunately, making the only decision that leaves us with a movie to watch, Nick is partnered with Roy (Jeff Bridges), a 200-year-old curmudgeonly dead cowboy. The movie spends the majority of its runtime setting up its own mythology, explaining how R.I.P.D. officers walk amongst the living in disguise (Roy as busty blonde Marisa Miller and Nick as James Hong), how their magical bullets can eliminate ghosts and other such baloney. None of it makes much sense, and most of it works as little more than window dressing while we learn of the Deados’ plan — with Hayes’ involvement — to gather ancient artifacts in order to bust out of the afterlife. Naturally, this all leads to the requisite destruction of yet another major metropolitan area in a movie this year.
The film has a severe misunderstanding of whimsy. There’s a sense — from its phony Danny Elfman score, its fanciful set design and the cartoonish appearance of its monsters — that R.I.P.D. wants to be magical or, perhaps, otherworldly. Unfortunately, director Schwentke has neither the imagination for this nor the ability to handle capriciousness. There’s nothing playful or mysterious in the world R.I.P.D. inhabits. Instead, everything’s handled like a soft drink commercial, as Schwentke attempts to slather the film in a rudimentary style that really consists of two tricks: needless CGI-aided zooms and a whole lot of slow-mo.
Joyless mediocrity oozes out of the film, as Reynolds looks bored and bummed out (the handful of moments that James Hong plays Nick in disguise are such an improvement, I wish they’d given him the role to begin with). Despite essentially doing a comedic version of his Rooster Cogburn character in 2010’s True Grit, Bridges is the only bright spot in all this muck. Every bit of R.I.P.D.’s charisma, every clever line, every joke that works, is somehow tied to Bridges’ performance, which is hardly enough to save a movie so all-around crummy. Rated PG-13 for violence, sci-fi action, some sensuality and language including sex references.
Playing at Carolina Cinemas, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, United Artists Beaucatcher