Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Cinema File #228: "R.I.P.D." Review

When I first saw the trailer for the new film R.I.P.D., I had the reaction that I imagine most people had, that this was just an obvious spin on Men In Black, crossed with Ghostbusters. Strangely, many people saw this as a reason to instantly declare that the movie was doomed to failure, while for me it was its main selling point. I like Men In Black (the first one anyway), and I love Ghostbusters, so even with the perennially underwhelming Ryan Reynolds at the helm, there had to be something to this project, right? And there was, but unfortunately what little good that does spring forth from this quirky premise of heavenly street cops is buried beneath a sizable pile of blandness, shallowness, and more missed opportunities than you can shake a stick at.

R.I.P.D. follows a cop killed in the field by his crooked partner who finds himself conscripted into heaven's police precinct, the Rest In Peace Department, working alongside history's greatest lawmen to take down Deados, souls who have somehow escaped judgement to remain among the living. Right down to the older southern fried partner, the Men In Black comparisons are obviously unavoidable, and as much as the familiar tone is somewhat comforting and breezy, you can't get past the fact that this thing just doesn't have the spark of creativity or passion that was clearly evident in the previous films it is imitating. All the plot beats and genre tweaks are more or less the same, just in the context of (I guess) Angel Cops Vs. Zombie Ghost Things instead of Bureaucrats Vs. Aliens or Firemen Vs. Ghosts, but it all just feels as hollow as the remarkably bad CGI monsters on display.

There are so many elements in this movie that if they were given just a little more thought and tied together with a bit more care and genuine love for the final product could have made for an awesome fantasy action comedy. The problem is not the ingredients, but rather  the cook, or I would guess far too many cooks, who lack the talent or even the interest to make a good meal out of them. Something as simple as the Deados appearing as the sins they committed in life, as with a glutton who balloons into a gravity defying super fatty, could have made for some interesting bad guys if they'd done absolutely anything more with it. The central premise of the world's greatest lawmen under one roof isn't even developed beyond the fact that one of them is a cowboy. How about throwing in Eliot Ness, or Eugene Vidocq (the inspiration for Inspector Javert) or even J. Edgar Hoover, on a probationary basis on account of the creepiness. That's just off the top of my head.

Even as the hope for a great movie quickly waned, I at least thought that once Jeff Bridges came along doing what I assumed would be a comic take on his Rooster Cogburn, things would get a little better. But no, they get so much worse, and considering we started at leading man Ryan Reynolds, we were already pretty far down to begin with. I've never found a Bridges performances annoying before period, let alone THIS annoying. Half the time I can't understand what he's saying, and the other half, I wish I didn't, because its some of the most inane blather you've ever wanted to forget ever hearing, and all the while he affects this strange manic twitch that I think was meant as quaint and charming, but just comes across like he has some sort of mental disorder on top of being a walking old-timey anachronism. I'd complain about Reynold's, but I wouldn't want to waste more energy then he cared to bring to his role. The only bright spot is Kevin Bacon, but like so much of this movie, he is under utilized.

I envy those who walked into R.I.P.D. expecting a lackluster re-hash, because as stupid as it might have been in retrospect to hope for more from this movie, I am only hurt more by it as a result. The chasm between what this movie is and what it could have been is staggering, and as one hackneyed plot device after another is introduced just long enough to move things along to the banal bitter end, I found myself not caring about a movie I should have been enraptured by given my tastes. It is more than just wasted potential, it is a waste of a possibly great premise that will now never get the chance to be made with the kind of wit and sophistication that it deserves. This should probably merit some pithy capper like "Dead On Arrival" or "It's Dead, Jim," but honestly, I don't have the strength. Just go watch Men In Black, then Ghostbusters, and then, what the hell, throw in some Manborg. You'll all be better for it.
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