Though massively derivative, R.I.P.D manages to be a bit fun and a little entertaining despite wildly uneven effects.
When Nick (Ryan Reynolds), a semi-dirty cop, is killed by his partner Hayes (Kevin Bacon) during a raid he finds himself offered a spot in the Rest In Peace Department, a celestial police force tasked with capturing or destroying dead people who failed to move on to the afterlife. Nick accepts the offer in which he will have to serve 100 years with the R.I.P.D. before moving on to judgment and is partnered with Roy (Jeff Bridges) a gruff old west gunfighter who doesn’t want a partner. A routine Deado collection results in a chase that leads to a larger conspiracy that may or may not tie in with why Nick was killed in the first place.
Right off the bat I have to say that while I have not read the Dark Horse comic upon which this is based I can say that the movie is pretty much Men In Black with dead people instead of aliens. It is impossible to ignore from the moment Nick shows up at the R.I.P.D. precinct to meet Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker) and she shows him to the main office. Even the story beats mirror MiB in most ways although R.I.P.D. does carve out its own identity in interesting ways.
One of the more fun and interesting conventions is the fact that Nick and Roy do not look like themselves anymore so that they cannot interact with or affect their former lives. In Nick’s case he looks like an elderly Chines man played by James Hong. Roy shows up as Victoria Secret model Marissa Miller. This makes for some funny situations when the pair interact with the world but I really wish they would have gone to this a bit more as there was a lot more potential for comedy here especially with someone like Hong, who is always excellent.
The story structure works well enough, which is not surprising since it worked so well in MiB but this does leave the movie really predictable makes it feel a bit stale. Still, well-worn as it is, the chemistry between Reynolds and Bridges is really good and overall the movie is clever and funny which takes the sting out of that retread feel.
The action scenes are generally well choreographed and executed although the camera moves can get a bit distracting at times. It is really a mixed bag in this department as there are some really cool shots and camera moves but for every one of those there is another that is annoying or disorienting. It is kind of strange given how steady of a hand director Robert Schwentke had in Red and it makes me wonder if this wasn’t rushed a bit or hampered by budget.
Another piece that suffers is the special effects and deado designs. Some of the effects are really awesome looking particularly in reference to a handful of still frame shots in which most of the people and action are frozen while others are free to move around the environment. When it comes to monster design and the CGI for the deados, however, the effects stumble and look very cartoony and out of place. I could understand a look of unreality to a point here since the characters are dead and mutating based on their defects and vices but the problem isn’t that they don’t look ‘real’ it is that they just look sloppy. You shouldn’t be taken out of the movie every time one of these characters shows its true colors but that is what happens. I really wish they would have gone with practical make-up effects as opposed to CGI but sadly that was not the case and we end up with fuzzy, sloppy looking creature CGI effects that cause real problems for suspending disbelief of any kind.
It isn’t all bad news as RIPD does manage to be pretty funny and has plenty of fun moments. A lot of this is dialogue driven and I am not sure how much of this is scripted and how much is improv but whichever way, the interactions, particularly between Roy and Nick, tend to be pretty amusing. It is fair to say that a lot of this feels a lot like MiB as well but Roy is a much looser and more irreverant character than Kay which mixes up the formula a little bit.
The performances are generally pretty good and most people seem to be having fun with what they are doing. Bridges is doing a riff on his Rooser Cogburn turn from True Grit although he is considerably easier to understand here. Reynolds is doing pretty much what he does in movies like this and I would be annoyed by it if he weren’t really good at it. Kevin Bacon might be my favorite part of this movie as he stops short of mustache twirling but only just…probably because he has no mustache. Mary-Louise Parker is good in a world weary sort of way but I am a fan of hers so I have a certain level of bias.
Conclusion [6.5 out of 10]
R.I.P.D. is not a great movie but it isn’t terrible either. There are a lot of problems with it but it had enough humor and good ideas to be moderately entertaining. If you can’t get past the obvious parallels to Men in Black then you should avoid this altogether. If you can, it is still a good idea to wait for the cheap seats or Redbox. The good stuff here is buried a little to deep to justify top dollar.