R.I.P.D is the film adaption of a small Dark Horse comic property, which at face value is Men In Black with ghosts. It may look like something that you’ve seen before (and you kind of have) but with deft direction, the primal allure of redemption and lightning pace; prepare for a surprisingly entertaining ride.
Instead of facing judgement in the wake of his untimely death, Boston cop Nick (Ryan Reynolds) gets recruited for the R.I.P.D (Rest In Peace Department). Agent Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker) tells Nick that service may assist with absolving past sins and ultimately a favourable judgement. So with a 50 year tour locked in and a cantankerous ex-cowboy lawman partner, Roy (Jeff Bridges), he finds himself on the ‘dead’ beat, with a case entwined with his live past.
It makes perfect sense that RED director Robert Schwentke got the nod to cinematically project Peter M. Lenkov’s comic of the same name to the big screen. It’s a comparably sized comic book property to that of his previous effort RED. It’s a cute premise and a blank visual slate to play with and Schwentke is an extremely visceral and visually inventive filmmaker. From the moment R.I.P.D begins, and you’re tracked nee dragged through a daring police raid on a drug den into a swarm of explosive action. What really impressed though was how the filmmakers integrated the supernatural plane atop Boston and their impression of how this rotten presence of the dead souls haunted and affected the city. Watching these ghouls (as they’re discovered by R.I.P.D investigators) mutate their live hosts into bulbous, distended hulking juggernauts or disfigured zombies gave a transformative dimension to the supernatural reveal of the spooks. Writers Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi don’t dodge cliche, they run headlong toward it; and like some kind of pulp novel that you’re reading in transit, it satisfies. The actors have the task of elevating the generic scenarios and they relish the opportunity.
For this reviewer Ryan Reynolds performance in Safe House was the strongest of his career. As an actor and comedic performer that runs on a cocky charm it was refreshing to see that he was able to convey humility and ultimately vulnerability. Reynolds’ performance as Nick is a good man, but it’s a treat to see Reynolds convey him marbled with doubt that past misdeeds may result in unfavourable judgement. Bridges’ cowboy Roy is stuck in a seemingly never ending service to the R.I.P.D. His hard living lawman existence is stained with blood. That being said, he has a lot of fun playing for big laughs and taking his familiar Rooster drawl from True Grit and making him a slapstick comedic entity. The highlight of the entire piece is just watching these two good poltergeists get personal about the shitty guys they were during their life and their powerlessness to change that fact.
Support from the evergreen Kevin Bacon (as Hayes) is solid — he’s the ‘not-so-nice’ guy of the moment. Parker has a great time as the very sexy agent Proctor. The highlight though is the R.I.P.D agent avatars Nick’s played by James Hong and Roy’s played by the beautiful Marisa Miller. Every single time you hear Bridge’s drawl out of Miller’s mouth or Hong conveying Reynold’s cocky confidence you can’t help but chuckle.
The foundation story from Lenkov definitely shares the DNA of buddy cop films like 48 Hours, ghostly films like Wings of Desire and riffs heavily on the formula of Men in Black. If you’re really familiar (and fond of) those films it may feel too ‘samey’, but the main issue for this reviewer is the tonal tightrope one must walk with the earnestness of regret and observing the fallout of your death and the investigative fun of this disposable mystery.
R.I.P.D‘s slick direction, great cast and slivers of genuine regret made me care for the characters despite the familiar format.
and a half
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to the audio review on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Robert Schwentke
Written by: Phil Hay (screenplay/ story) & Matt Manfredi (screenplay/story), David Dobkin (story), Peter M. Lenkov (Dark Horse comic)
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Bacon, Mary-Louise Parker, Stephanie Szostak, James Hong, Marisa Miller