Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Mary-Louise Parker & Kevin Bacon
Directed by: Robert Schwentke
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release Date: July 2013
Running Time: 96 mins
Synopsis: Veteran lawman Roy Pulsifer (Jeff Bridges) works for the R.I.P.D., a legendary police force charged with finding monstrous spirits who are disguised as ordinary people but are trying to avoid their final judgment by hiding out among the living. When Roy and his new partner, Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds), uncover a plot that could end all life, they must discover a way to restore the cosmic balance or else watch the tunnel to the afterlife start sending angry souls back to the world of the living.
From the outset it is clear that R.I.P.D. is heavily inspired by the Men in Black franchise, simply substituting aliens for ghosts whilst maintaining many of the hallmarks that made the original Men in Black such a popular hit in the late-nineties. Although this film predates his role in Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds boasts much of the same charm and likeability of Will Smith in his heyday, whilst Jeff Bridges confidently steps into the veteran partner role occupied by Tommy Lee Jones. While R.I.P.D. shares much of the same DNA as Men in Black (a secret organisation protecting humanity against an otherworldly threat, one old agent training a new rookie, special gadgets and powers), it lacks the same quirky wackiness present in the 1997 classic.
As with any ‘buddy-cop’ movie, the relationship between the two leads is essential to the success of the movie and here, Reynolds and Bridges succeed in creating a likeable partnership between Nick and Roy. Bridges plays the role of Roy Pulsifier surprisingly chipper, a contrast to the stoic Agent Kay, with his gleeful undead cowboy lawman infusing the film with mischief and personality. Reynolds, however, is surprisingly restrained in his performance here in comparison to some of his later films, where he always seems to play sarcastic Deadpool-esque characters. I suspect if this film was released post-Deadpool, we might have seen a different type of performance from Reynolds. As it is, he seems to be the straight-man to Bridges’ more animated portrayal.
Charged with hunting down “Deados” – souls that haven’t moved onto the afterlife – the R.I.P.D must attempt to hunt down these fugitives hiding in human bodies and send them on their way. Obviously, this concept bears strong similarities with the MIB hunting down aliens illegally hiding out on earth posing as humans, but R.I.P.D. introduces some twists to the concept. Firstly, Reynolds and Bridges do not appear to other people in their real bodies and instead use avatars of a supermodel and an elderly Chinese man to investigate events on Earth. These disparate visuals result in plenty of comedic moments and the film wisely transitions to these actors (Marisa Miller and James Hong) to show the viewer events from the other perspective. Another cool addition is how the R.I.P.D. agents interrogate the Deados, using Cumin to stimulate a reaction and making them “pop” into their true grotesque forms.
Kevin Bacon stars as the main antagonist of the film, and luckily the movie doesn’t waste much time in revealing his nefarious motives as Bacon has one of those faces that just screams bad guy…even when he is trying to sell me mobile contracts in those EE commercials. He nails the role of a corrupt cop perfectly, and I like how Ryan Reynolds’ character isn’t as squeaky-clean as a normal protagonist in this type of movie would be. Mary-Louise Parker also appears as the head of Boston R.I.P.D. and plays the role with the right amount of authority and chemistry with Bridges’ character. She also manages to succinctly introduce Nick and the audience to the concept of the R.I.P.D, allowing the movie to continue with the plot without lengthy exposition scenes.
The film has some fun action set-pieces, most notably the sequence where Bridges attaches himself to a Deado which begins running up the side of the building, but ultimately there are no memorable sequences that stand out from the crowd. Even the climax feels somewhat muted as Nick and Roy drive through empty Boston streets on the way to prevent the apocalypse; it reduces the tension when there are no civilians shown. When compared to the likes of Ghostbusters’ final act, there was a tangible sense of disaster established there because the film took the time to show the impact to everyday civilians. Another issue was the design of the Deados, which felt lacking at times because they were very similar to each other and effectively looked like stretched out versions of the original humans. Again, you can contrast this with the ghosts in Ghostbusters, which stood out because of the more vivid mix of different spirits.
R.I.P.D. is a fun film and I did enjoy it more than I thought I would, but it lacks the same impact and originality as its main influences: Men in Black and Ghostbusters, and as a result, was unable to establish its own franchise. While there are some neat flourishes that are unique to this film, such as the two avatars, it never seems to fully embrace its bizarre premise in the same way that Men in Black and Ghostbusters did. Enjoyable, but ultimately forgettable, R.I.P.D. never fails to entertain but also never quite innovates.