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“R.I.P.D.” (Movie Review)

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Supernatural and sci-fi films have been falling all over themselves homaging the 1970s and ’80s in recent years, but R.I.P.D. is the first genre flick I can think of that seems bound and determined to put us in mind of the ’90s.

Although R.I.P.D. is nominally based on the comic by Peter M. Lenkov, its basic premise (gruff veteran lawman schools new young partner in the finer points of apprehending otherworldly beings) is right out of MEN IN BLACK, and there’s a romance-beyond-death subplot with strong echoes of GHOST. Not to mention that Christophe Beck’s music recalls every buddy-cop score that followed LETHAL WEAPON, and the second-rate digital FX echo the years of working-the-bugs-out CGI that followed JURASSIC PARK.

R.I.P.D. feels familiar from more recent movies, too. Ryan Reynolds’ Nick Walker opens the movie with the voiceover “Three or four days ago, I didn’t know this world existed,” which seems like the plot of half the fantasy movies made this decade (and half of the ones trailered before the screening I caught), and the finale feels a lot like the climax of THE AVENGERS (we’ll forgive ’em that one, since R.I.P.D. lensed two years ago), involving the bad guys putting together the hard-won pieces of a magical something-or-other that’ll open up a portal to bad stuff invading Earth. “Don’t be a cliché,” Jeff Bridges’ Roy Pulsifer says at around the half-hour mark, but by then it’s already too late.

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The irony is that he addresses that line to the one character who shows a bit of original spark: a tart afterlife “Proctor” played by Mary-Louise Parker who introduces Boston cop Nick to the rules of the Rest in Peace Department after he’s gunned down by (what else?) his duplicitous partner, Hayes (a slumming Kevin Bacon). Once Nick has departed this mortal coil, there is a cool setpiece in which he wanders through a major cops-vs.-drug-dealers firefight that has been frozen in time, which is also where director Robert Schwentke makes the best use of 3D. Once Nick has been partnered up with Roy, who believes (what else?) that he’s more effective solo, the film employs a sometimes-funny running gag in which, upon their return to Earth, everyone living sees them as very different “avatars”: a hot blonde (Marisa Miller) for Roy, and an old Chinese man (nice to see James Hong again, even in such a limited role) for Nick.

The rest is the same-old same-old, as Roy and Nick squabble their way through a series of confrontations leading them ever closer to solving the villains’ apocalyptic plot, with a paucity of genuinely funny dialogue and situations, and assorted zombie-ish monsters (or “deados,” in the film’s parlance) that resemble escapees from a bygone video game. There are long sections where the tone is all over the place, suggesting that the movie was pared down for pacing at the expense of coherence, and Schwentke, who deftly merged action and comedy in RED (whose sequel, coincidentally, also opens today), seems overwhelmed by the demands of a more visual-FX-heavy project. (Certainly he, or somebody, forgot to include any extras, digital or otherwise, in the big city-demolishing finale.)

Left to their own devices by the script by CLASH OF THE TITANS’ Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, Bridges and Reynolds seem to be trying hard. Bridges adopts a marble-mouthed Western drawl, reflective of Roy’s past as an 1800s gunslinger, that’s more amusing that most of the dialogue he’s been given, while Reynolds takes his straight-man role perhaps a little more seriously than he should have. Perhaps if Nick, for all the heartbreak of being separated from his beloved wife Julia (Stephanie Szostak)—who is (what else?) now being wooed by Hayes in his absence—had a little more fun with his situation, R.I.P.D. could have achieved a fresh take on its timeworn ideas. Instead, for all its visual flash, it feels as moldy as a (non-resuscitated) cadaver.

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About the author
Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor, the position he holds to this day while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews.
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