Director: Robert Schwentke
Writers: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi, & David Dobkin (based on the comic written by Peter M. Lenkov)
Distributed By: Universal Pictures
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Bacon, Mary Louise-Parker, Stephanie Szostak, James Hong, Marisa Miller
Release Date: July 19, 2013
MPAA: Rated PG-13
It’s that time again, and in this edition of Movie Mondays we’ll be taking a look at a movie about a group of working-class do-gooders out to save the world on a daily basis, causing tons of mayhem and destruction along the way, and eventually having to prevent some form of Armageddon. So, without further ado, let’s get down to it with Ghostbusters, I mean Hellboy, I mean Men in Black…no I mean R.I.P.D.!
Okay, so it’s not EXACTLY like those other movies, but it “borrows” very heavily, sometimes blatantly, from them. Just watch for the scene where our two heroes have to take the stairs to the top floor of some high-rise and you’ll immediately catch the Ghostbusters moment. Basically this film is an over the top, absurd pastiche of a lot of other films that unfortunately all just happen to be better than this one.
This movie, while lifting elements from other films, does do some new and different things with them. For instance, where one might assume that rookie Nick (Ryan Reynolds) is the wise-cracking, goofy sidekick, and old veteran Roy (Jeff Bridges) is the crotchety, surly, stoic leader, you couldn’t be more wrong if you tried. Nick is emotionally withdrawn and often just angry or somber when he expresses himself; and Roy, portrayed by what could best be described as Bridges doing a parody of his own performance in True Grit, is generally wacky, zany, and completely unhinged. The film’s two leading men give rather entertaining and well fleshed out performances. Mary-Louise Parker, as the equally emotionally awkward Chief of the R.I.P.D. (the Rest in Peace Department) gives an equally entertaining performance. The strongest performance of the film is also the one that receives the least attention in the form of Stephanie Szostak, playing Nick’s wife Julia.
The emotional core of this movie, seemingly lifted right out of Ghost, is Julia grieving over the death of her husband Nick while being stalked/haunted by him as he tries to reconnect. The payoff comes near the end of the film in a surprisingly emotional and touching scene between the two, and it’s all handled in a very “tug at your heartstrings” kind of way. In fact, that can be said about ALL of the scenes with Nick and Julia. It’s almost as if they were pulled out of another film entirely and thrown into this one. They’re so normal and sweet that they just don’t fit in with the crazy, silly feel of the rest of the movie.
This is a perfect example of the film’s biggest problem. It just doesn’t seem to know what genre to shoot for. At times it’s your typical buddy-cop action flick and it works well enough, but at other times it switches to stupid, gross-out teen comedy fare, and then randomly jumps into serious drama. Unfortunately at no point do any of these styles mesh well for this film.
One of the more entertaining aspects of the film comes by way of the film’s two running gags. One of which is about Roy’s turmoil over what happened to his corpse after his death centuries ago. The other gag being that while on Earth, the living see Nick as a goofy old Chinese grandpa (James Hong) and Roy as a smokin’ hot blonde bombshell (Marisa Miller). At one point, some sleaze-ball tries to hit on Roy and the audience is treated to quite possibly the funniest scene of the film, where Jeff Bridges exclaims that he’s “not just some piece of meat” and tells off the jerk.
This film is an action comedy, and there’s a decent amount of action, as well as a decent amount of humor, almost all of which stems from Roy’s insane and kooky behavior, at one point screaming his head off as Nick races between exploding buildings during a ridiculous car-chase. One of the highlights of the film comes in the form of a song as Roy sings about his hardships while proclaiming to be “The Better Man” and playing an accordion, shortly after his and Nick’s latest argument. Be sure to stick around for the first few minutes of credits to hear the full version, because it’s equal parts ridiculous and hilarious.
The action is fairly mediocre overall, with fight scenes and chase scenes going on too long to stay interesting. The few action beats that are there for comedic punch pull it off nicely, however, and manage to bring in a few extra much-needed laughs. There are a few comedic beats that really nail it with some laugh-out-loud humor, but for the most part a lot of the humor in this film is painfully awkward and uninspired. That notion is a good way to look at the movie as a whole. The few times it gets things right, it gets them really right, but for the most part the movie just gets things painfully, mind-numbingly wrong.
One could go on and on and on about all of the things this film gets wrong, from the hit-and-miss visual effects to the uninspired, only entertaining in one scene, villain (Kevin Bacon), to certain jokes getting beaten like a dead horse…but you get the point: The film has some genuinely great moments, from great puns like the R.I.P.D.s “Eternal Affairs” division, or random jokes about Roy’s obsession with ankles. But, it’s nowhere near enough to make up for the veritable cornucopia of mediocrity.
While it’s certainly not as bad as other comic book films, like Frank Miller’s The Spirit, The Green Hornet, or Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, it’s certainly not very good either. And saying a film isn’t as bad as it could have been is like saying “Hey, this root canal hurt less than the last one,” which isn’t much by way of praise. There’s a pretty funny scene wherein Roy has to grade Nick’s performance and gives him a C+, then after growing frustrated with him decides to drop the “+” and then contemplates giving him an F. That, just about, sums up my conflicted emotions toward this film. I can’t decide whether it’s an outright failure or just pretty damn mediocre. Certainly below average, but not completely abysmal, R.I.P.D. gets a score of 4 out of 10.