Friday, July 19, 2013

R.I.P.D.: D.O.A.

R.I.P.D. (2013) • View trailer 
Two stars. Rating: PG-13, for relentless fantasy violence, sexual candor, mild sensuality and some profanity
By Derrick Bang

This film is saddled with a salad bar script.

Start with a heaping helping from the big bowl (Men in Black), add some variety from the mid-sized tubs (Ghostbusters and others), top off with some dressing and a pinch of seasoning swiped from even more fantasy predecessors, and you’ve got a movie.

While new R.I.P.D. recruit Nick (Ryan Reynolds, center) watches from the background,
veteran lawman Roy (Jeff Bridges, right) and fer-shur bad guy Bobby (Kevin Bacon) try
to determine who can out-glare the other. Honestly, that's one of the more genuinely
entertaining moments in this lamentable misfire.
Or that may have been the theory, anyway. I call it leftovers. Stale leftovers.

Writers Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi and David Dobkin haven’t an original idea between them; everything here is begged, borrowed or stolen from other sources (some better, some ... just familiar). The premise may have started with Peter M. Lenkov’s cheeky Dark Horse comic book series, which ran for four issues back in 1999, but it turned into something of a derivative mess en route to the big screen.

And while R.I.P.D. would be an unsatisfying film under any circumstances, it’s particularly tiresome during a summer laden with similarly overblown, city-leveling action fantasies. The result, for the viewer, is a serious case of Been There, Endured That.

If Ryan Reynolds isn’t careful, he’ll squander his 15 minutes of fame. Between this and 2011’s Green Lantern, he’ll get a reputation for destroying mid-range comic book franchises.

At a scant 96 minutes, R.I.P.D. certainly doesn’t linger, but director Robert Schwentke’s feverish pace borders on the ridiculous. He and editor Mark Helfrich have orchestrated a film that feels as if it’s on Benzedrine; everything comes fast and furious, the rat-a-tat cutting as breathless and frantic as Crank or Run Lola Run. But while atmospheric frenzy may have been a solid stylistic choice with those two flicks, here it’s just another annoying affectation ... and something else cribbed along the way.

Actually, Schwentke misses no opportunity to be irritating. He even opens his film with a fleeting, action-laced flash-forward, and then employs a brief voice-over to wind the clock back a few days, to the story’s somewhat quieter origins.

That move is the first refuge of a nervous director who worries that he can’t hold an audience without employing tactics, and it smells of panicked, eleventh-hour tinkering. Voice-over isn’t used again — a telling sign — and we also wind up watching that opening sequence again, when the narrative catches up to it. Déjà vu, anyone?

I’d be inclined to write this flick off as a total loss, but Jeff Bridges is too entertaining to dismiss; he makes the viewing experience genuinely worthwhile. Which — as is the case with RED 2, also opening today — explains why stars deserve their salaries.

Boston cop Nick Walker (Reynolds) begins the last day of his life by cuddling Julia (Stephanie Szostak), the wife he adores, and who adores him in return. She thanks him for the new little fruit tree in their back yard, unaware that Nick concealed some contraband beneath the root ball, when he planted the tree late the previous evening, in order to surprise her.

But Nick has second thoughts about the assorted chunks of gold that he and partner Bobby Hayes (Kevin Bacon), ah, “liberated” from a scummy drug lord the previous day. Nick tells Bobby that he intends to file the gold as evidence, as he should have done in the first place. Despite Nick’s assurances to the contrary, Bobby can’t take the chance that Nick will implicate him, as well; during a weapons-blazing skirmish a few hours later, Bobby waits for the right moment to blast his partner to Kingdom Come.

Except, in Nick’s case, his ascent toward heaven in a funnel of light (hello, This Is the End) is interrupted when he winds up in a sterile examination room (Men in Black), with a crisply dressed Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker) regarding him expectantly. This, then, is Nick’s introduction to the celestial Rest In Peace Department, tasked with identifying, locating and incarcerating — or terminating — the departed nasty souls (“Dead-O’s”) who should have gone straight to Hell, but somehow managed to extend their stay on Earth’s mortal plain.

At least, I think that’s why the Dead-O’s hang around. This film’s clumsy script never bothers to discuss that detail, just as it never explains why Nick has been tagged for R.I.P.D. duty. Initially, it seems as if he’s being “punished” with this 100-year assignment in a sort of constabulary Purgatory ... but why, in that case (as Proctor explains), would his new colleagues be “history’s greatest police officers”? Surely such dedicated cops wouldn’t all be stuck in Purgatory.

More to the point, if Proctor and her unseen bosses upstairs in Eternal Affairs know absolutely everything about Nick, as is made clear, wouldn’t they also know about his change of heart regarding the gold stash — apparently the one “bad” move in an otherwise exemplary career — and recognize that he is, in fact, on the side of the angels? So he should have been granted access to Heaven in the first place?

This film is littered with similar narrative inconsistencies, and they’re all annoying. Oh, and here’s a big one: Based on what we learn later, why would Bobby have left any of that gold in Nick’s possession?

Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.

As the newbie, Nick is assigned to partner veteran lawman Roy Pulsifer (Bridges), a 19th century sheriff in the Wyatt Earp mold, who shoots first and asks questions later. Access to our workaday realm, at least for the Boston branch of the R.I.P.D., is granted via the back room of a somnambulant VCR repair shop: a direct lift from Del Floria’s tailor shop, in television’s Man from UNCLE.

Rounding up Dead-O’s generally is a standard procedure that first involves penetrating their human disguises (Men in Black again), made easy with the application of the tandoori spices prevalent in Indian cuisine. That sight gag is a minor giggle, since it reveals the undead spirit in all its putrescent, body-mangled glory.

Then, if the Dead-O is unwilling to come along peacefully, it can be snuffed into vapor via the special bullets in R.I.P.D. weapons, which emit a burst that strongly resembles the meson particle ray from a Ghostbusters proton gun.

Oh, and in order to do their work without being detected by rank-and-file Earth civilians, R.I.P.D. officers are granted “identities” that make them look like somebody else (a note from Heaven Can Wait). Roy’s avatar is a hot supermodel babe (Marisa Miller), while Nick is stuck looking like an elderly Chinese gentleman (the always delightful James Hong).

Their weapons, in turn, appear (respectively) as harmless hair dryers and bananas ... although Schwentke cuts those sight gags so abruptly, that we scarcely have time to notice.

So yes, some of this film’s running bits are reasonably amusing, as is the banter between the frustrated Nick and the gruffly condescending Roy. Indeed, Bridges plays this cowpoke-out-of-time to the hilt, his twinkling eyes and often bemused expression put to excellent use as the cranky Roy complains about losing his favorite hat, or laments the rather ghastly way in which his human life came to and end, back in the day.

This might have been a better film, had we been able to spend more time with routine Dead-O trackdowns, and the developing bond between Nick and Roy. But Schwentke and his inept scripters can’t wait to rush into their story’s central Big, Bad Catastrophe, which (naturally) involves leveling great chunks of the surrounding metropolis, much as we’ve recently seen in Iron Man 3, and Star Trek Into Darkness, and Fast & Furious 6, and Man of Steel, and White House Down, and Pacific Rim, and ... you get the idea.

I’m simply exhausted. Enough, already.

Bridges’ charm and Parker’s snarky sass aren’t enough to keep this leaky ship afloat, and Reynolds brings very little to the party. Bacon makes a great villain, chewing up the scenery with a panache that this film could use more of, while Szostak makes good eye-candy as the Sexiest Wife Of All Time.

Sure, visual effects supervisor Mark Hawker’s work is polished and convincing, as are Thomas Nellen’s various Dead-O makeup effects. No doubt about it: Plenty of money was thrown onto the screen. But that’s the point; it was hurled like spaghetti onto a wall, rather than applied artfully or logically.

We cannot get emotionally involved without a rational (and consistent!) script, or characters we actually care about, and this film offers neither. Its Rest in Peace Department is no more than random pieces that fail to connect or engage.

Bridges deserved better.

And so do we.

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