“Defending the world one soul at a time”
Directed by Robert Schwentke
Starring Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Mary-Louise Parker and Kevin Bacon
Repenting of his decision to steal gold from a drugs bust, otherwise honest cop Nick Walker (Reynolds) is murdered by his partner, Bobby Hayes (Bacon). His passage to Judgement is interrupted as he is recruited to serve a one hundred year term in the Rest in Peace Department, tracking down and apprehending souls that have escaped Judgement and remained on Earth in exchange for a shot at a better decision than he was headed for.
Partnered with old-hand Roy Pulsifer (Bridges), Walker is sent back to Earth, where he learns that he no longer looks like himself and can not make contact with his widow. Accepting that all he has is the job, he and Roy stumble onto a plot to bring all the dead back to Earth with an artefact called the Staff of Jericho; a plot masterminded by the secretly dead Hayes.
What’s wrong with it?
R.I.P.D. is a film that plays to the wrong strengths. It has some good actors (Bridges, Parker, Bacon) and some good ideas (see below), but drowns them in an almost non-stop flurry of fights and chase scenes. Parker in particular is wasted in a role which asks her to do little more than flirt awkwardly with Bridges. This might not be so bad, but the overwhelming reliance on CGI for the action sequences serves only to reinforce the message that you can’t beat practical effects; at least not without spending a lot more money than was spent on R.I.P.D.
What you end up with then is a spectacle film with no real spectacle; just Ryan Reynolds being beaten up by a CGI-fat-suited monster and plunging into the uncanny valley of the rag dolls with each blow. It badly wants to be to undeath what Men in Black was to UFO hunting, but it fails on a great many levels.
The film’s humour is a mixture of mild gross-out gags from the true forms of the ‘Deados’ (a visual representation of corruption of the soul), a few one-liners and a running gag based on the fact that Walker’s appearance on Earth is an old Chinese man (played by James Hong) and Pulsifer’s a statuesque blonde woman.
What’s right with it?
The film does have some good ideas, and the central plot is a strong one; it’s just a shame that it wasn’t better served with a stronger emphasis on drama, rather than action. If the film acted more like The French Connection it would probably not only have been a better film, but a funnier one as well.
I liked the idea that the Deados – hate that name – remaining on Earth was the result of an overloaded system, and that their ‘soul corruption’ spread into the world, thus providing a reason for the RIPD’s work beyond ‘it’s wrong for them to still be here’. I liked the idea of the Staff of Jericho, even if there was no indication how a Boston PD detective knew about it, let alone tracked down all of the pieces. I even like the title, although for my money it never needed to be spelled out that it stood for Rest in Peace Department and would have been funnier without that.
How bad is it really?
It’s actually quite good fun to watch in a popcorn movie kind of way; it just could have been much more.
Best bit (if such there is)?
I confess, I was amused that Walker’s soul-killer sidearm appeared to humans to be a banana.
There is also a well-done scene where the action slows down for Pulsifer to talk Walker through the traditions of the shoot out.
“Of course, sometimes the hotel window guy’s on the roof.”
What’s up with…?
- The Deados reacting to cumin?
- Bobby Hayes, six months dead and a BPD narcotics detective, being some sort of major league occultist and heavy-hitter in the Deado community. From the way his soul corruption spread, I sort of assumed he was like a 6th Century monk who’d been masquerading as a detective, but no; he was just able to end the world because… reasons.
- The question cards about curry? Is the transformation a physical reaction to cumin or psychosomatic?
Production values – Unless it is Avatar-level expensive, CGI remains little match for practical effects, and this is well below Avatar-level. The action scenes which are the backbone of the film are let down by awkward rag-dolling and weird size changes. Compare and contrast the Clash of the Titans remake which, for all its flaws and CGI, used extensive practical stuntwork to give its action scenes impact. 16
Dialogue and performances – Ryan Reynolds is not an actor of whom I am especially enamoured, but in fairness he isn’t terrible here. Unfortunately, he needed to be a more powerful grounding presence with old hand Bridges hamming it up like a pro. Bacon holds his own in a sparse villain role. Unfortunately, the female roles really let the side down, with Walker’s wife primarily there to be in danger and Proctor (Parker) having little if anything to do. 11
Plot and execution – Some excellent ideas are squandered in a flurry of action sequences, albeit a few of them are well done. 13
Randomness – The movie throws ideas at the audience at considerable speed, hoping that they’ll stick, and mostly they do. The great central flaw, however, remains Hayes, the strangely knowledgeable and powerful newly-minted Deado. 12
Waste of potential – The film isn’t terrible, but it is lacklustre and uninvolving where its cast and ideas deserve so much more. 16