By Melissa Agar
R.I.P.D. (Universal, 2013) – Director: Robert Schwentke. Cast: Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Bacon, Mary-Louise Parker, Stephanie Szostak, James Hong, & Marissa Miller. Color and 3D, 96 minutes.
Have you ever been in a situation where you are suddenly overwhelmed with this sensation that you have experienced this exact same situation before? It’s a phenomenon widely referred to as déjà vu, but I think I just might start calling it RIPD Syndrome.
Throughout the roughly 90 minutes of R.I.P.D., I was overwhelmed by the feeling I had seen this all before. A wisecracking young cop learns that there is more to the universe than he ever dreamed of with the help of a grizzled partner? I loved that when it was called Men in Black. A man yearns to maintain a connection with his life, particularly his beautiful lady love, after she is brutally murdered? That reduced me to absolute tears when it was called Ghost. Bridges plays a crusty Western lawman with a tobacco-chewing accent that is at times a bit hard to discern? That was brilliantly done in True Grit. A plot gets muddled up in ancient mystic relics that threaten to destroy life as we know it on Earth? Well, I’m sure we all could easily name a dozen films in the past decade alone that have relied on that tired old trope. While there are some fun moments in R.I.P.D., the fact that the film feels like a thrift store full of movie hand-me-downs cuts into the energy and creativity of the film on more than one occasion.
The paint-by-numbers script introduces us to Nick (Reynolds), a Boston cop who has begun flirting with corruption, stealing several pieces of gold he and his partner (Bacon) discovered during a seemingly routine drug bust. Nick just wants to provide a better life for his French wife Julia (Szostak). Just as Nick decides to do the right thing and turn the gold over for evidence, he is killed during a raid. He is pulled up into the afterlife, specifically into the offices of the R.I.P.D. (Rest in Peace Department). Nick learns that dead souls walk amongst the living, having escaped from the afterlife, and that the job of the R.I.P.D. is to track down these “deadoes” and return them for their date with judgment.
Because Nick is a “dirty” cop, R.I.P.D. offers him protection from a potentially negative evaluation in his own judgment. He is paired with an old West lawman named Roy (Bridges) and sent back to Boston to track down deadoes. (And yes, they seriously call them that.) Of course, Nick and Roy butt heads. Of course, Nick would much rather stalk his grieving widow than track deadoes. Of course, there is some nefarious plot being launched by the deadoes that will lead to the destruction of living humankind, and Nick is the only person with the right set of skills and information to save humanity from being overrun with dead souls.
I shelled out a couple extra bucks to see this in 3D, and I will say that some of the effects are pretty cool. When Nick dies, all around him freezes, allowing Nick to move through the living world before being pulled up into the afterlife – a really gorgeous effect in 3D. Some of the big chases and battles are also pretty nice to look at with the added dimension. I’m not one of those moviegoers, though, who is obsessed with mind-blowing effects, especially if it’s at the expense of plot or character development, so you know when I start talking about how cool the movie looks that there isn’t much beyond that of any great merit.
The real problem with R.I.P.D. is that ultimately, it’s pretty dull. Because I felt like I’d seen so much of it before and done better in other films, there was a predictability that took away a great amount of suspense and excitement. The moments that felt truly original were few and far between. That’s not to say the film lacked any entertainment value. There were moments I laughed. There is some great comedic mileage found in the fact that Nick and Roy move through the living looking not like Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges but rather like an elderly Chinese man (Hong) and a hot supermodel (Miller) respectively. Watching Bridges admonish a young man for ogling him like a piece of meat was almost worth the price of admission. Almost.
The unfortunate thing here is that a pretty terrific cast is wasted on this reheated leftover of a movie. The cast does its best to add zest. Reynolds deftly balances the wry with heartfelt and makes Nick a likable character. Bridges revisits his Rooster Cogburn and adds a dash of The Dude (his role in The Big Lebowski), allowing him to pretty much own the movie. The film doesn’t really come to life until Roy shows up and suffers any time after his introduction in which he is not onscreen. Parker as R.I.P.D. Captain Proctor is great; her combative chemistry with Bridges is a lot of fun. Unfortunately, no matter how strong the performances, they need material worthy of what they bring to the table, and R.I.P.D. just isn’t it. A boring old casserole with fancy ingredients is still just a boring old casserole, and this movie is the very definition of a boring old casserole – a mishmash of familiar elements that don’t quite combine to make a spectacular meal.