R.I.P.D., with its monstrous dead guys and unique weaponry – not to mention its old veteran/rookie dynamic and tightly wound boss (who had a thing with the veteran years ago) – might be based on a comic from Dark Horse, but it takes a lot of its cues from the Men In Black movie series. That’s not a bad thing because, thanks to a wicked awesome cast, it does stand on its own.
Ryan Reynolds plays Nick, a good cop who made one slip in trying to provide a better life for him and his wife, Julia (Stephanie Szostak) but ends up suffering because his partner doesn’t want to rectify that error. Instead, Bobby (Kevin Bacon) takes advantage of a police action against a big gang to send Ryan off to his eternal reward/punishment.
As he is drawn toward what looks like it might not be the best judgement, he is suddenly redirected to a very shiny, mostly white office, where he is given a few moments to process his position vis-à-vis no longer being alive and then offered a shot at redemption by spending a century in the employ of the Rest In Peace Department, Boston Division. The person making the offer is Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker) and her offer is one he simply cannot refuse – though his reasons aren’t entirely selfless.
Indeed, after being introduced to his new partner, Roycephus (Jeff Bridges), he finds himself watching his own funeral and tries to tell Julia he’s not really gone. Unfortunately, in one of the film’s best running gags, he now looks like an aged Chinese man (James Hong), so she thinks he’s some kind of nutjob. To make matters worse, Roy’s avatar is Marisa Miller – the sight of them working together is the source of a good number of laughs.
Roy’s attempts to train Nick are, shall we say, less than successful – Nick, it turns out might not quite have a handle on dealing with dead-ohs, as spirits of the dead who have refused to move on are called, but he does have better investigation skills which lead the two to a plot by the dead-ohs to reverse the stream from Earth to the afterlife and let the dead loose on the world. And, wouldn’t you know it, Bobby seems to be involved…
There’s a lot to like in R.I.P.D. – the cast is much better than average (and considerably better than the material); the development of the plot is efficient and, all things considered, pretty ruthless; there are some extremely good gags – both in terms of humor and stunts (there’s a sequence where it’s raining cars!); the dialogue is mostly pretty good, with a decent number of good lines from almost everyone involved; the effects are generally pretty special, and Bridges gets to sing a song that is one of the movie’s funniest – and most poignant – moments (stay long enough into the credits to hear the whole thing…).
On the other hand, the language is far more intense than it really needs to be – after a few times, most of the scatological stuff ceases to be either shocking or funny; some of the running jokes go a titch too far (at least one goes way past what you should expect from a PG-13 movie); almost as many gags fail to land (the only character who is spot on, landing gags is Proctor – and that’s largely because Parker can make things funny even when they’re really not); Roy’s extremly peculiar southwestern accent is beyond odd and makes it hard to get some of his lines; and there’s not enough of James Hong (who can steal a scene without saying a word).
Bridges and Reynolds work well together. Reynolds is our representative here – like us, he’s seeing this stuff for the first time. Bridges makes Roy’s disinterest in having a partner, and his making Nick uncomfortable, real to us – just as he takes Roy down a notch as Nick earns his respect.
Bacon once again makes a great villain. He seems to be a decent enough partner before turning on Nick, but once he does reveal Bobby’s true colors, he holds nothing back. Parker, as noted above, is comedy gold and – though she doesn’t have a great deal to do – lands every line perfectly.
Robert Schwentke (RED, Flightplan) keeps things moving at a good enough clip that we’re on to stuff that works quickly enough that the stuff that doesn’t really never gets a chance to stay with us. He never lets the film get maudlin (and it really could have gone that way) and he never lets the effects and stunts override the characters.
R.I.P.D. is a solid enough summer popcorn movie to be worth checking out. It’s called fun.
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Photo credits: Scott Garfield and Universal Pictures/Courtesy Universal Pictures