Friday, July 19, 2013

Dead on Arrival: R.I.P.D.


R.I.P.D. is a fantasy cop movie with a few good ideas played badly. The acronym stands for the Rest In Peace Department, the movie’s best idea. If your movie is going to have one best idea, might as well make it the central concept. (In this case, that concept is undoubtedly reproduced from the comic books by which the movie’s inspired.) The idea here is that cops killed in the line of duty are sucked up to a heavenly way station where they’re offered a chance to serve a tour of duty back on Earth. The job of the R.I.P.D. is to hunt down dead souls who’ve somehow slipped through the cracks and have remained shuffling around on this mortal coil. Once found, the souls are brought up into the clouds to receive their rightful judgment. Within that premise, there should be plenty of room to stage interesting paranormal spins on cop movie tropes, but the whole enterprise quickly takes on the feeling of a bargain basement Men in Black knockoff.

A recently deceased cop (Ryan Reynolds) finds himself paired with a grizzled Wild West lawman (Jeff Bridges) who has been on the R.I.P.D. for quite some time. They’re sent out on their rounds by their no-nonsense chief (Mary-Louise Parker) who looks like just the kind of official who’d demand an officer’s badge and gun and take them off a case the instant things start to deviate from protocol. Reynolds is playing his usual sheepishly competent handsome guy, while Bridges seems to be enjoying playing his Rooster Cogburn again while letting a little bit of a Tommy Lee Jones impression sneak around the sides. These two wild card cops clash with each other, but of course we all know that their time on the streets together will loosen their distinctive personalities and let friendship in. Would we have it any other way?

But anyway, the problem isn’t in the easy genre staples, but in the execution. The actors are trying their best to put over some severely clunky material. The script by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, the guys behind the Clash of the Titans remake and the big screen Aeon Flux, not an encouraging track record, is a broad blend of silly banter and zippy action. But it all plays out stiffly, the plot moving through predictable motions leadenly while the actors try valiantly to keep afloat characterizations that are so one-note, the only movement comes when they seem to go out of tune to conform to the script’s schematic emotional arcs. Director Richard Schwentke brings to it all a digitally swooshing camera that, for all its showy movement, fails to bring the dead material to life. Like his last film, the similarly antic and dull old guy actioner Red, there’s lifelessness behind the would-be comic-book-style-approximating compositions.

Adding to the weightlessness of it all is the wobbly special effects, which appear distractingly rubbery and artificial. Once an action scene starts, with a dead soul popping out of its mortal casing in grotesque and unpleasant ways, the characters get all bouncy and unreal, impossible to believe and difficult to care about as destruction makes little impact on their forms. I found myself wondering if there was any real world stunt work done on this production at all. As the action gets bigger and bigger and the undead souls appear to be gathering an artifact that will allow them to reverse the flow on the heavenly funnel cloud that sucks all dead into the afterlife, it all gets ever increasingly unmoored. Not even Kevin Bacon as a crooked police officer can salvage the CG spasms that explode in generic special effects mayhem of the blandest kind. The cop movie turns into a stop-the-MacGuffin movie. At least it’s the source of the movie’s one good self-knowing laugh. When Parker explains the object in question’s world-ending properties, Bridges scrunches up his face and asks, “Who’d ever want to make that?”

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