It’s Men in Black but, you know, with dead guys.
289Whilst R.I.P.D. is actually based upon a comic book called Rest In Peace Department, you just know that’s how it was pitched to Universal. In fact there are so many similarities to Men in Black, that you wonder why Sony’s lawyers didn’t issue a cease and desist order. A cop finds himself inducted into a strange organisation, where he’s saddled with a crotchety older partner as they battle evil forces that exist unnoticed within our own world. They have big guns, disguises so that normal people won’t recognise them and drive around in a custom car. Sound familiar? In fact, when the newly dead police officer is shown around the R.I.P.D.’s vast headquarters, the music is even the same.
Not that Men in Black is the only film that R.I.P.D. ‘borrows’ from and there are some fairly obvious similarities to Ghostbusters (another Sony franchise), whilst the dead hero’s attempts to find closure with the wife he left behind is very reminiscent of Ghost. There’s even a series of questions that are used to flush out the “Deados” in much the same way as the Voight-Kampf test was used to uncover replicants in Blade Runner. At one point someone even says “reaction time is a factor in this”, which can’t be a coincidence. The difference is that rather than creating an emotional response, the R.I.P.D. test is based around the “Deados” disgust of Indian food. So depending on how you feel about curry, you'll either find yourself feeling sick or craving a chicken tikka masala.
The premise of R.I.P.D., as the title rather obviously suggests, is that there’s a force of dead police officers - the Rest In Peace Department - whose job is to detect dead souls hiding amongst the world of the living. It’s never really made clear how these dead souls actually get back to our world because the film states that the path between the world of the living and the afterlife only goes one way but frankly that’s the least of the film’s inconsistencies. Ryan Reynolds plays a Boston cop called Nick Walker, who at the start of the film has done something slightly illegal and subsequently gets killed during a drug bust. Upon his arrival in the afterlife, he is informed by the head of the Boston division of the R.I.P.D. that he can either take his chances in final judgement or work in the R.I.P.D. for 100 years. He chooses the latter and is then partnered up with Roy Pulsipher, a lawman from the 1880s, played by Jeff Bridges.
The rest of the film the centres on Roy introducing Nick to the underground world of “Deados” - dead souls hiding out on Earth - and investigating a mysterious ancient artefact, called the Staff of Jericho, that can reverse the flow of dead souls going up to the afterlife. Needless to say the two don’t get along at first but you can be sure they’re best of friends by the closing credits. In the meantime we discover that the R.I.P.D.‘s access to our world is via a toilet in a VCR repair shop and that the officers look different when seen by mortals. In the case of Roy, he looks like a supermodel, whilst Nick looks like an old Chinese guy. It doesn't really make any sense because how is looking like a supermodel supposed to help you blend in and not draw attention to yourself? Whilst this gag is funny at first, it quickly grows stale as it is repeated over and over again. As does the play on police terms which culminates in an investigation into Nick and Roy by Eternal Affairs.
You have to feel sorry for Ryan Reynolds, he’s quite a charming screen presence but really needs to talk to his agent.
The R.I.P.D. headquarters looks like a cross between Men in Black and Beetlejuice, with a heavy dose of Terry Gilliam’s vision of crushing bureaucracy from Brazil. Mary-Louise Parker plays the part of Mildred Proctor, who heads up the Boston division of R.I.P.D. and injects the film with some much needed quirky humour. Meanwhile Kevin Bacon turns up as Nick’s partner back on Earth and it’s good to see him doing something other than EE adverts. The French actress Stephanie Szostak, who recently had a small role in Iron Man 3, plays the part of Nick’s grieving widow.
The film has already bombed in the US, where it took $34 million off the back of a $130 million budget and continues Ryan Reynolds string of box office disasters. You have to feel sorry for the guy, he’s quite a charming screen presence but he really needs to talk to his agent and get more films like Buried. As for Jeff Bridges, he is perfectly cast as Roy and it’s hard to believe that Zach Galifianakis was the filmmaker’s first choice. Bridges brings his best Rooster Cogburn to the role of Roy but his slurred delivery is almost unintelligible at times. Did Bridges have a stroke about ten years ago?
The film was written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi and directed by Robert Schwentke, who previously made RED which also starred Mary-Louise Parker. The film is well made with competent effects but there’s a sense of familiarity that makes it seem much longer than its 96 minute running time. It’s also being released in both 2D and as a 3D conversion and as always with these post-produced 3D films, there is too little depth in some scenes and an exaggerated amount of depth in others.
R.I.P.D. is one of those films that makes you wonder who exactly it was made for? It’s too derivative to be original, it isn’t funny or broad enough for a general audience and it isn’t quirky or nasty enough for a more selective audience. As a result the film appeals to no one, which has largely been proved by the film’s failing at the US box office. The studio clearly has little faith in it either, which would explain why there were no advance press screenings. In the end a likable cast is largely wasted in a film that is little more than a tired retread of Men in Black. Whilst the effects and production in R.I.P.D. are good, the lack of originality or real laughs diminish its appeal. Sadly this is one film that’s dead on arrival.
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