THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
It's hard to watch R.I.P.D. and not think of Men in Black. Although based on a pre-existing comic book, the story, as told here, is virtually identical to MIB's, but with evil spirits instead of aliens. The creatures have been designed in an almost identically comical way. Even the photography style and camera movements are reminiscent of the off-kilter ones Barry Sonnenfeld brought to his 1997 blockbuster. I'd be okay with all this if R.I.P.D. was as much fun as MIB was, but despite a few amusing sections, it's largely mediocre.
Ryan Reynolds plays Nick Walker, a Boston cop who is murdered while chasing down a drug dealer. Instead of going to Heaven or Hell, he is drafted into the Rest In Peace Department (a.k.a. the R.I.P.D.), an agency of deceased police officers that patrols the universe in search of “Deadoes,” evil ghosts that assume human form to avoid facing judgment in the afterlife. Walker is teamed up with Roy Pulsipher (Jeff Bridges), a lawman from the 1800s. They don't exactly get along – big surprise – yet eventually uncover a conspiracy that may have ties to Nick's murder.
Movies of this nature tend to live or die by the chemistry between the two leads. A good combo can elevate the material into something special. A bad combo can highlight everything that's a little creaky. Reynolds and Bridges are both accomplished actors, yet their characters are not opposite enough. The best bickering-buddy pairings offer diametrically opposed pairings: live-wire Will Smith and perpetually cranky Tommy Lee Jones in MIB, or reckless Mel Gibson and too-old-for-this-shit Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon, for example. The big joke of R.I.P.D. is that Walker is a modern cop, whereas Roy is an old-time Western lawman. The screenplay doesn't do enough with that idea, though, other than have Bridges talk in a trick voice and wear a hat. Subsequently, Roy and Nick don't seem all that different from one another. Conversations between them are generally not very funny because there's no real comedic dynamic going on.
The plot is a little thin, as well. It feels as though there might have been some judicious editing of R.I.P.D. at some point. A few mentions exist of a relationship between Roy and the department's director, Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker); what really transpired between them is hazy at best. One also has to wonder about the motives of the primary villain and how he organized the evil plan he's trying to carry out. At times, the film feels like it's starting to explore these things, only to pull back inexplicably, leaving the audience with unanswered questions.
If nothing else, R.I.P.D. is fairly amiable. Jeff Bridges is certainly fearless, playing Roy Pulsipher with the same conviction he brought to True Grit's Rooster Cogburn. A few of the action scenes are enjoyable, too. In one, the guys chase an obese ghoul with “plumber's crack” up and down the skyscrapers of Boston, and the final showdown with the bad guy nicely mixes comedy and mayhem. A recurring bit about how Nick and Roy are perceived by humans also gets a few laughs; the former assumes the body of an elderly Asian man, while the latter looks like Victoria's Secret model Marissa Miller.
These pleasures are only sporadic. R.I.P.D. simply can't overcome its flaws or the fact that it too closely resembles the far superior Men in Black. Although I didn't hate spending time with these guys, I'll side with agents J and K any day of the week.
( out of four)
R.I.P.D. is rated PG-13 for violence, sci-fi/fantasy action, some sensuality, and language including sex references. The running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.
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