- Movie Rating -

R.I.P.D. (2013)

| July 19, 2013 | 0 Comments

“R.I.P.D” is an action-comedy that takes place in the afterlife.  That means lots of celestial bookkeeping, vortex clouds, lightening, the walking dead, and a higher court called Eternal Affairs that the audience never gets to see.  Curiously in all this eternity stuff, no one ever mentions God.  There’s mention of things created by “The Universe,” but God stays off the map, out of the dialogue and out of the movie.

Maybe this is a sign of the times, when the idea of The Supreme Being is becoming a subject that no one in American films wants to deal with.  There was a time when a movie like this would have placed The All-Mighty smack-dab in the center of the plot, allowing him to send the hero back to earth on his mission to one more good deed.  Not here.  Maybe the idea of God was too much.  Too controversial?  Offensive perhaps?  Maybe Morgan Freeman wasn’t available.

We are left to ask whose running the show.  “R.I.P.D.” raises at least two dozen fundamental questions like this that no one really seems able to answer.  It’s not a bad film but you find yourself scratching your head hoping that the film’s closing scenes will bring some closure to a script that is, truth be told, a disorganized mess.

You might have surmised from the TV ads that the movie is a rough-shod retread of “Men in Black,” a movie that operated on a fun premise and on the talent of Will Smith, a gifted comedian who could fuel entire scenes just with the power of his mouth.  “R.I.P.D.” has Ryan Reynolds, a good-looking actor who has yet to occupy a role that tells us why he ever became an A-List actor in the first place.  He occupies a scene with no sense of wonder, presence or joy.  He’s just . . . there.  It’s hard to nail down exactly what his talent is.

Reynolds plays Nick Walker, a good cop who is gunned down one day during a drug bust and is whisked off to the afterlife.  Much of the plot can’t be discussed without spoilers, so let’s just say that a misstep in Nick’s morality back on earth (he stole some evidence), has left Nick with a brief purgatory-like assignment.  He is offered a chance to join a police force that keeps the world safe from “Dead-Os,” creatures that inhabit the earth that are supposed to be dead.

Nick’s partner is Roy (Jeff Bridges), a 19th century lawman who was gunned down and left to watch his carcass devoured by coyotes.  A century and a half later, Roy is a veteran of the R.I.P.D., doomed to walk the earth for a certain term until . . . whoever . . . deems him fit to reap his eternal reward.  True to the form of every cop-buddy movie ever made, Roy’s job is to break in the young rookie.  That means lots of encounters with the living dead.

The world of the dead is never really explored to its fullest.  There’s some disgusting locations, and disgusting creatures, but nothing the really dazzles us.  There are individual moments in the film that work, but as a whole you feel that something has been left out, as if some major parts of the screenplay were sacrificed.

The main plot gets going when it is revealed that someone – one of the “dead-o’s” – has stolen an ancient object that will bring about the end of the world.  It doesn’t take an expert to figure out what Roy and Nick are going to be called to do.  Nor does it take long to figure out that Nick will try to patch things up with his grieving girlfriend back in the world of the living.  He tries to communicate with her but is barred by a predicament that the movie’s trailers unfairly give away.  To the living, Nick doesn’t look like himself; he looks like an elderly Chinese man (James Hong).  Roy, to the living world, looks like a buxom blonde (Marisa Miller).  Again, this is an idea that the movie never really explored to its fullest.

Bridges is the best thing about the movie.  He seems to be channeling his performance as Rooster Cogburn from “True Grit” and he seems to be having a ball.  With his Colonel Sanders facial hair and cowboy hat, he’s a lawman of the old west, doomed to walk the Earth of the 21st century.  He looks like Wild Bill Hickock and talks as if he has marbles in his mouth.  Jeff Bridges, the best actor of his generation, gives a fun performance here.  He gives the movie a much-needed boost of energy and proves that he can liven up a dead script like this – no pun intended.

“R.I.P.D” has a potentially fun premise and some nice moments, but it is never all that it could have been.  The movie seems like it was edited with some crucial dialogue missing.  Maybe that’s where the meat of the story was.  Think of all that could have been done with the afterlife.  Think of the potential for the bureaucratic red tape.  Think of the potential of the visions of Heaven and Hell that could have been created.  Imagine the fun of having the pair meet God.  Imagine God played by Alan Arkin. This thing writes itself, so why couldn’t they write it that way?

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.