One day a studio will fund a
$100 million plus tentpole, screen the finished version, and flat-out deem it
un-releasable, unwatchable and unmarketable. Until then, we only have reminders
that that day is coming, in the form of misguided boondoggles like “R.I.P.D.,” a
picture that Universal is releasing in order to create a silver lining around a
$130 million cloud. What’s horrifying is that this expensive misfire runs a
little less than ninety minutes, which means that there’s likely a 105-110 minute long
version that the producers hacked up in order to get the maximum amount of 3D showtimes
to not embarrass the studio on opening weekend. Judging by the released
product, that version is likely even worse, if such a thing were possible.
After a brief action prologue designed to ensure bored audiences don’t rush for a refund, Ryan Reynolds is introduced as Generic Boring Cop, seen cuddling with his model-esque wife in bed. The two of them address their relationship in ways you only see in movies, talking about their hopes and fears as well as financial concerns, giving us an insight as to what the plot points for the following hour and a half will be, and not what kind of relationship this really is. Despite the gonzo premise implicit in the title, a lot of “R.I.P.D.” is about crossing off familiar action film concepts, with the implicit assumption that what worked before will work again.
Generic turns out to be on the take, but in a concept that seems borrowed from a Saturday morning cartoon and not the Dark Horse comic book that provides the film’s storyline, he’s only guilty of swiping a bunch of jagged, broken gold bricks from a crime scene. Also skimming a little off the top is fellow cop Kevin Bacon, and when Generic earnestly informs him he’s not going to be involved in any more shady deals (which all apparently involve fake-looking, possibly magical gold bricks), Bacon pops him one. Now dead, Generic seems poised to float into the afterlife – or Judgment, as it’s ominously called. A last-minute save puts him in what seems to be an extra-dimensional police station, headed by a sarcastic, not-very-involved Mary-Louise Parker. Parker, a wonderfully droll performer, seems tuckered out, possibly from the running and jumping performed in another of this week’s release, “Red 2.” The film’s twist on the angry police chief cliché she’s playing seems to be that she’s barely engaged, and wearing a rather fetching set of knee-high boots.
Generic is teamed with an ornery cowboy from the old west named Roy (Jeff Bridges), and the two of them are sent onto the streets of modern day Boston to chase “deados,” dead criminals who have escaped judgment and now run wild on the streets trying to… uh… there isn’t a whole lot about this movie that makes sense. Why wouldn’t you have Generic work Boston with another modern cop, instead of the antiquated Roy? Is this because the afterlife runs on the same time schedule as the real life world? If so, they have said you serve 100 years with the R.I.P.D., but they also claim they’ve been keeping the world safe since 1953, while Roy hails from the 1800s? And why is the chief so contemporary when some of her underlings hail from the last two centuries?
They teach this in all screenwriting classes, but apparently Hollywood hasn’t attended one of those, so you’re left wondering: why is Generic so passive? Poor Reynolds, once a potential A-lister, the guy barely has any lines in his own movie. And this is a role where literally everything just falls into his lap. First he’s killed by Kevin Bacon. Then he’s recruited into the R.I.P.D., with the other option being potential damnation. Soon he’s on the case, busting deados and begging for a spare moment to collect his posthumous feelings that the movie never grants. Fortunately, that magical gold ends up figuring into the third act, which is terribly convenient. There’s even a moment where the invincible Generic takes a Looney Tunes-style beating while begging Roy to properly utilize some doohickey to stop a doomsday device. Guy doesn’t even have to lift a finger, the plot’s doing all the work for him.
In a role like this, you have to look at the character and get everything that’s going on internally, but Reynolds simply doesn’t have that quality, no matter how hard he hits the weight room. Earlier in his career, he would reveal personality through jokes and quips, even if it broke the straight-face of the character; witness the tug of war happening in the trashy “Amityville Horror” remake, where his alpha male seriousness, actorly tic sarcasm, and “Blade Trinity” physique keep violently clashing. Now that he’s older, he’s done away with the merrymaking as if he were now a “serious actor,” and he plays this role with a bitter, unhinged dissatisfaction, as if they didn’t tell him he would spend the film surrounded by cartoonish CGI characters that feel fifteen years outdated. Surprisingly, Bridges is equally unpleasant, buoying his salty-dog joke of a character with endless punch-less punchlines, verbally dominating scenes as if he had an equal sparring partner. The chemistry reminds of the acidic union of flippant Will Smith and snobby Kevin Kline in “Wild Wild West”: you don’t like either character on their own, but you still actively root for them to separate.
“R.I.P.D.” is directed by Robert Schwentke, the vision-less helmer who previously banked on familiar stars to make hits out of the dimwitted “Flightplan” and moribund actioner “Red.” His approach here is alternately breathless and low-energy, over-edited to use action to obscure the fact that these are sequences we’ve seen before. Through a number of chase scenes (none of these characters seem like very good cops, alive or dead), deados seem to have fluctuating power abilities, but they can often fling from rooftop to rooftop with ease. The 3D seems like it would benefit from this, but instead, it’s used for scatological effect, most prominently in scenes where characters drop food and vomit onto the screen, right into your 3D eyeline. It’s an appropriate metaphor. [F]