July 19, 2013



R.I.P.D.:  Not Even For Free – No Life After Death For This One

Ryan Reynolds plays a dead man in the new R.I.P.D., and thus it makes sense that his character would be frustrated and depressed for much of its length, but watching him, you almost feel like his glumness is a message to the audience.  I get it, he’s saying in every grim close-up.  This will be over soon.  For you and me both.  Of course, after The Green Lantern and The Change-Up, the fact that Reynolds thought this third-rate rip-off of Men In Black would be his best next career move makes those sentiments ring rather hollow.  If it hadn’t been for him, maybe the project would have been consigned back to Development Hell and we all could have escaped this experience.  (As for Reynolds’s co-star Jeff Bridges:  after a 40-year body of work with its share of masterpieces, if he wants to collect a paycheck for riffing on his performances for the Coen Brothers, that’s his privilege.)

Would R.I.P.D. have felt less pathetic in the late 1990s, when Men In Black would have been a topical subject to appropriate?  At least then the opportunism would have been fresh; in 2013, it’s like a campaign button for Bill Clinton’s reelection.  No matter when it was made, its cut-rate production values–reportedly it cost $135M to produce, which makes the $200M pricetag for Pacific Rim look like the bargain of the century–would have marked it as the movie equivalent of a Fauxlex watch, and the script credited to Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi (with a shared story credit for David Dobkin, who worked on an earlier incarnation of the project) would still have made one wince.

The only real difference between the concepts of MIB and RIPD is the mortality of its heroes.  In this one, Boston detective Nick Walker (Reynolds), who had stolen some gold from a crime scene with his partner Bobby (Kevin Bacon, who between this and X-Men: First Class needs to stop playing comic book villains) but then, feeling guilty, decided to return it, is promptly murdered by Bobby.  But Nick is detoured on is way to eternal judgment and told by the officious Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker, having a busy weekend) that he can get leniency for his crimes if he agrees to serve a 100-year term with the Rest In Peace Department, which tracks down and imprisons dead people who have managed to escape the afterworld and return to earth.  These “deados,” as they’re called, may as well be aliens, since they wear bulbous combinations of latex and CG prosthetics and have powers that include running across the front of buildings and super-strength.  Nick is, of course, partnered with a crusty older partner who has no patience for him, in this case Roy Pulsipher, who’s been with the R.I.P.D. since his own death as a western marshal after the Civil War.

The big sight gag, which is repeated over and over, is that the dead cops, when they return to earth, aren’t seen as themselves but in different physical personas, which means a glamorous fashion model for Roy and an elderly Chinese man for Nick.  (The fact that the deados have no such limitations and can apparently choose whatever earthly appearance they want is just one of the many failures of logical consistency that dot the script.)  Because this is meant as an origin story, it will come as no surprise that a routine visit to a deado leads to a plot that involves Nick’s murderer, who isn’t–even though this makes zero sense in the context of what we’d been previously told–what he appears to be.

R.I.P.D. attempts to inject some emotion into its proceedings by adding some secondary rip-off material from Ghost, as Nick tries to make his lovely widow (Stephanie Szostak) understand that the old Chinese man she keeps running into is actually him, but it’s to no avail.  Soon the plotline is cluttered with artifacts that reverse the rules we’d just been given and–yawn–threaten the end of the world, which comes–quintuple yawn–with the same scenes of office buildings collapsing and rubble raining down from the sky that seem to feature in every movie that’s opened since May.  None of it is well done by director Robert Schwentke (who probably should have stayed with the RED franchise).

The ordeal is reasonably fast-paced at just 96 minutes, and in this summer of swollen epics, that’s something.  But it’s about the only thing good that can be said about R.I.P.D., which combines mindlessness and incompetence to an extent that you can almost find yourself nostalgic for The Lone Ranger.  The movie itself needs a burial.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."