Review: 'R.I.P.D'

"R.I.P.D" is not so much of a movie as it is a movie-like substance. Sure, there are times you're convinced, for a few minutes at least, that you're watching a real movie, because they trick you by trotting out things you've seen in a movie before. You know, the usual suspects, car chases, fist fights, and of course, Kevin Bacon. All of these moments proudly proclaim, "Hey, this is a movie!" But then, sadly, "R.I.P.D." jolts you back into reality with a scene that has no bearing on anything that's come before, and that vaguely chemical taste in your mouth is the realization that there's a giant hole where the "movie" part of the movie should be, replaced only by a massive CGI budget. It all ends up going to pieces, which is a real shame, because there is a legitimate film in here somewhere, buried deep beneath the rubble of its terrible script and editing.

However, that said, the premise of "R.I.P.D" is not a complete non-starter, and in fact there's much to like during the opening half of the film. For instance, the initial action scenes are handled with a certain grace, the camera angles biasing toward clarity, and even though it looks slightly video-gamey, it also is undeniably effective. Kudos also must be given to Jeff Bridges and Mary-Louise Parker, prodigious talents who are occasionally able to carry the film all by their lonesome. Indeed, if the story had been entirely about them, and only them, tirelessly toiling away in an afterlife bureaucratic purgatory, they just might have pulled it off. Bridges is goofy throughout "R.I.P.D.", but he's earned it somehow, as if we're all now just tuning in to see him, not whatever character he's embodying. His relationship with Parker's character is the definition of forced, only it works because they are both too charming to let any one scene with the two of them fall entirely on its face.

Back to the aforementioned premise, a select few law enforcement officers, upon their passing in the line of duty, are chosen for a special branch of the afterlife, the "R.I.P.D". Their task is to track down deceased folks who are evading judgement, enterprising bad guys also known as "deados". When Boston Police Officer Nick (Ryan Reynolds) is gunned down during a raid, he's immediately recruited by the "R.I.P.D.", going directly from dying into a meeting with Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker) before he has any idea as to what's happening. Believing he can somehow right the wrongs of his slaying, he takes the job. He's teamed up with fellow dead person Roy (Jeff Bridges), a hard-scrabbled lawman from the late 1800s. Roy begins to show Nick the ropes, and they unwittingly stumble upon a plan involving Nick's former partner Hayes (Kevin Bacon) that could have cataclysmic repercussions.

Which is all well and good! There's nothing in there that's so devastatingly stupid that an audience wouldn't follow happily along, for we are the people who adore films about superheroes, eat up fantasy, and request all the science fiction you can give us. Plus, when you're starting out with Mary-Louise Parker and Jeff Bridges it's like holding two aces in poker, any reasonable approximation of decent gameplay should leave one victorious. But it's not to be, because "R.I.P.D." makes the biggest mistake a film can make - it forgets to tell the story, while at the same time believing it can take credit for telling the story.

How does this manifest itself? Firstly, in the odd chemistry between Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges. It feels as though whole sections of the film were left on the cutting room floor, as "R.I.P.D." clearly indicates throughout that the two are at each other's throats, only there's no real reason as to why. One guy is older, sure, and one guy is a rookie, okay, but they start in with the "Odd Couple" routine after about three seconds of foreplay, and then continue to trade on these unearned credits throughout the film. Introducing two characters, and then having them not get along solely for the sake of taking up time isn't so much storytelling as it is throwing in the towel. Relying far too often on this forced dichotomy, "R.I.P.D." goes completely off the rails as it should be nearing its culmination. It's almost as if they would have preferred to show a montage of "Men in Black" or "Lethal Weapon", point at the screen, and then say "that's how our guys are too!" But that's not how it works!

People disagreeing based upon nothing leaves an audience feeling nothing. Nothing from nothing, that's "R.I.P.D." doing its thing. To be fair, Ryan Reynolds isn't so much bad here as he's asked to do the impossible. Hey there Ryan, just go ahead and 1) be a likable dead guy that 2) still somehow has unresolved business with the living world while 3) also being flawed enough that the character can experience a cathartic transformation. He doesn't pull this off, even a little bit, but it's hard to say where the sad script choices ended and poor Ryan Reynolds began. I mean, if someone tosses you a hundred pound weight as you're treading water and tells you to swim, it's not going to matter how buoyant you are, and in "R.I.P.D" Reynolds sinks to the murky depths.

No story to speak of, forced tension, and featuring unclear motivations throughout, "R.I.P.D." proceeds to get worse and worse as the minutes drag on. Naturally, they need a point of tension, and that point seems to be Nick's desire to get back to his (living) wife. Or no, wait, maybe it's Nick's plan to get revenge on his killer? Hold up, it's actually all about solving a mystery, doing great police work, even from beyond the grave, in order to save the entire universe! In truth, "R.I.P.D." doesn't know what exactly it's getting at, so it tries a bit of everything, like a puppy jumping, licking, and barking all at the same time. One of these will work! Luckily, as the film is less than 100 minutes, as soon as "R.I.P.D." establishes its rather complicated and convoluted world logic, it is forced to zip to the finale. Monsters! Dead people! Ancient relics threatening to undo humanity! At this point of "R.I.P.D." it's easy to have checked out, for the film has nothing to say, and you can only listen to the dust in the wind blowing around for so long before you just close your eyes and pray for it to end.

SCORE: 3.6 / 10

Laremy wrote the book on film criticism and loved Ryan Reynolds in "Definitely, Maybe".