The newest entry into the sci-fi/action/comedy genre – “R.I.P.D.” – boasts a fresh, creative and original concept.
The film is about an underground society of secret agents, who dress up in black suits and black shades and police beyond-the-stars activity, while gracefully weaving amongst the ignorant, yet blissful, citizens of New York City and beyond. At the heart of this covert operation lies their top secretbase of operations, which is teeming with unsightly and repulsive (not to mention CGI-created) creatures, with some of them ending up a little on the dangerous side, as well. They have names like J and K and… hold on a second. Man, I’m an idiot.
I’m sorry guys. This whole time I thought I was describing “RIPD,” (I’m taking out the periods from now on, for my own selfish reasons) but I was actually explaining the premise behind the 1997 Will Smith-Tommy Lee Jones vehicle, “Men in Black.” However, if I was a betting man (which I’m not, because I never, ever win) I’d say that I will not be the only person who makes the mistake of comparing these two eerily-similar films. I mean, both films were also based off of comic books, as well (with the idea behind “RIPD” coming from a Dark Horse title by Peter M. Lenkov called “Rest in Peace Department” In fact, I don’t think I’d be out-of-line in using the word “rip-off” when making these comparisons.
QUICK SIDE NOTE: Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good comic book or (especially) graphic novel as much as the next guy, but WOW, this “let’s-turn-every-comic-book-into-a-movie” thing is getting a little ridiculous, don’t you think. I’m getting to the point that I’m no longer surprised when I find out a movie’s concept stems from a comic book/graphic novel. In fact, I’m more surprised to find out a film ISN’T based on a comic book these days. Since April of 2013, we’ve had six comic book adaptations that have been released into theaters (the straight-to-video ones are another story), which includes two this week: “RIPD” and “RED 2.” Not to mention next week’s release of “The Wolverine”… or the week after that with “2 Guns”… or two weeks after that with “Kick-Ass 2”… and the list goes on. I would plead for a slight break in the comic book barrage, but I know better. I’ve seen the movie release schedule for the next year or so. To say it’s “comic book heavy” would be an understatement. The same also goes for 3D films, but that’s a rant for another “quick side note.”
It’s such a shame, too. The actual concept behind “RIPD” (which, by the way, is short for “Rest in Peace Department”) is just as interesting as the
one at the core of the “Men in Black” series. They’re just SO damn similar. In fact, if truth be told, if the roles were reversed and “RIPD” was released in 1997, I’d be saying the same thing about “Men in Black.” Let me be honest, though. If both films came out on the SAME day, well, I’d have to with “MIB” as the winner.
But enough with comparative analysis, let’s talk “RIPD,” shall we.
The film focuses on the life (and death) of police officer Nick Walker – played by Ryan Reynolds (who takes a break from his usual wisecracking nature and goes for the sarcastic vibe instead. Oh, is that the same thing? My bad).
One fateful day, after waking up next to Julia – his hot, French-speaking girlfriend (played by Stephanie Szostak – who also played that red-eyed Extremis warrior in “Iron Man 3” who beats the crap out of Tony) – Nick attempts to break up a far-from-routine drug bust. He heads out with his bracelet-wearing (foreshadowing!) partner – played by Kevin Bacon – and, pretty much, every police officer in a 50-mile radius to take on this monumental task. However, the bad news is that Nick doesn’t quite make it back alive, after getting shot and breaking his neck due to fall from a fairly-high location. Poor Nick.
After “getting up” from the fall, Nick finds himself in a perpetual state of frozen time, which represents the exact moment that his life clock stopped ticking. Upset and confused, Nick is then swallowed up by a swirling hole in the sky and “beamed up” to some sort of interrogations
room, where he sits face-to-face with the Fresca-drinking Proctor – who is played by persistent scene-stealer Mary-Louise Parker, who also chewed up the scenery in “RED 2,” which is being released this week, as well (At the risk of shameless self-promotion, check out my review of “RED 2”).
Proctor proceeds to tell Nick he’s dead and instead of going to heaven (or hell, as Reynolds wasn’t exactly the straight-and-narrow type at ALL times), he gets to join the RIPD. Proctor explains that the RIPD is a task force that polices beyond-the-grave activity back on Earth. (Starting to sound familiar yet? Sorry, I couldn’t help it.) So, after Nick mysteriously gets a tattoo/brand of the RIPD logo seared onto his chest, Nick is ready to do to work, right? Not so fast. Agent J… sorry. I mean, Nick now needs a partner to show him the ropes.
Enter Roy Pulsifer – played by Jeff Bridges. I’ll just say this, if Mary-Louise Parker was stealing scenes as Proctor, Bridges is committing armed robbery and murdering every other actor in sight during his scenes. Bridge’s performance, as the mustachioed, duster-wearing, six gun-shootin’, one-liner spoutin’ former cowboy (who’s been a member of RIPD since the Old West in the 1800’s) is the single best aspect of the film – hands down. I can’t even remember all of the great lines that Bridges
had, but even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you guys. Since that would be depleting the enjoyment factor of the film by about 75-percent and that would be a straight-up mean thing to do. As an added bonus, it’s implied that Roy and Proctor had “a thing” at one time. So, basically, we get to watch scenes, in which Bridges and Parker playfully interact with each other, which create just as good of a chemistry level that Reynolds and Bridges produce (which, by the way, is pretty good as the personalities of Nick and Roy balance the other out quite well).
I also won’t tell you who the lead villain is. Although, you’ll probably be able to figure it out about ten minutes into the story, but who am I to take those ten minutes away from you. As a far as the bad guys of “RIPD” are concerned, I will tell you who and what a “deado” is.
A deado is a soul that is stuck in purgatory and the more time that it’s stuck in this particular position, the more angry and malevolent it gets. These zombie-like creatures (they remind of the boomers/fat dudes from the “Left for Dead” videogame franchise) are reminiscent of how they acted when they were alive. For example, one of the deados has a wide, flapping, open wound-of-a-jaw, because he was an informant (I guess “snitches get stitches” wherever they go) when he was on Earth. Another deado is repulsive and bulbous (aka: morbidly obese), because he was greedy in real life. It’s a little like how Dante described the figures during his trip to Hell in “The Divine Comedy,” kind of. The deados can also disguise themselves to hide amongst the ignorant humans, sort of like the giant bug did when he wore the “Edgar suit” in “Men in Black.” (Man, I can’t get away from this comparison. It’s just SO easy.)
This is where the RIPD comes in, because you just don’t want these guys running around on Earth and wreaking havoc. Oh, but they do… and Nick and Roy are there to make sure they answer for their crimes. They have a few weapons the help them, however. They’re give these nifty, light-shooting pistols that disintegrate the deado population. Of course, you gotta’ shoot ‘em in the head though. Also, if a deado is in their human disguise, you can force them out with Indian food. That’s right. You don’t fight deados with Celtic crosses, but with curry chicken instead.
The biggest problem with these deados is their digital construction – in other words, the CGI. Too many of them start to look alike and move the same way (which is a cross between a free runner and a gorilla), so it’s impossible to tell them apart. After a while, most of them just looked like the Mr. Hyde character from “Van Helsing” to me. Eventually, they become more of a hindrance to the film than a positive aspect. This is not a good thing, simply because they’re on screen for virtually the entire third act of the film and good deal of the second act, as well. I just want to be clear, it’s not the deado CONCEPT that I didn’t like; it was the execution in bringing them to the screen that wasn’t up to par.
I won’t get too much into the plot, but just know that it has something to do with the end of the world and a device called “The Staff of Jericho” that keeps the flow of deados from being reversed (from “Send to Hell” to “Send to Earth”) and blah-blah-blah. It’s not the most novel and inspired plot line, but what is nowadays?
There are some inventive ideas that float around “RIPD” from time-to-time. For example, the RIPD officers enter into the real world via VCR repair store. When Nick asks Roy, “Aren’t you worried we’ll get noticed?” – Roy replies, “When’s the last time you’ve had your VCR repaired?” True. So true.
Another interesting concept is the cover that RIPD officers are provided when they walk amongst the people of Earth. They aren’t allowed to be themselves (as Nick’s girlfriend would probably freak out upon seeing her supposedly-dead boyfriend chasing fat zombies around town), so they take on the persona of other people. However, instead of jumping from body-to-body (a la “Fallen”), they occupy the same “shell” throughout the film. This turns out to be a one-note gag (when it could have been much
funnier with a body-switching theme), as Nick’s character is an “old Chinese man” (played by James Hong – who’ll ALWAYS be Lopan to me) and Roy is a beautiful blond (played by Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Marisa Miller). Again, this joke kind of gets old after the umpteenth time you see it. Actually, it loses its luster after the first time you see it.
Like I stated earlier, it’s a shame. I really wanted to like this movie after I heard about the concept. That being said, after checking out the first trailer for the film, I knew that it was just going to be another film with lofty ambitions that just couldn’t get off the ground. It’s not really the fault of director Robert Schwentke (who, ironically, also directed “RED” – as he’s going head-to-head with the aforementioned sequel, “RED 2,” this week at the box office) , who did his best to emulate the look and feel of the frenetically-paced directorial style of “MIB” director Barry Sonnenfeld, who, in turn, learned from the Coen brothers. It’s not a bad attempt; it’s just not an original attempt. Good try, Schwentke.
“RIPD” is not a horrible film. It does have moments where it’s engaging and the cast have a great deal of the dialogue that screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi (of “Clash of the Titans” (2010) fame) have given them to say, especially Bridges and Parker (as Reynolds is mostly a soundboard for Bridges), is some seriously funny stuff. It’s just that it’s a film I’ve seen before…
… in 1997.