Monday, July 29, 2013

It Came From The Cineplex: R.I.P.D.

R.I.P.D. is a new supernatural action comedy based on the Dark Horse comic book of the same name. It's directed by Robert Schwentke, director of Red (yay!) and Flightplan (boo!).

This is yet another movie based on a comic book I've never heard of. I've been a big comic fan for decades, but I've never in my life even seen the R.I.P.D. comic. This has happened a lot in the past few years. Men In Black, Cowboys & Aliens, Red, The Losers, Surrogates-- all were allegedly based on comics I've never heard of before. 

Do these comics just have incredibly tiny print runs or is my local comic shop dropping the ball and not carrying them? 

R.I.P.D. has a sort of throwback feel to it, reminding me greatly of films from the 1980s, like Big Trouble In Little China. Maybe that's because it takes so many elements from previous movies? This is most definitely a Franken-film, a monstrous creation stitched together from pieces of many other movies. It cribs elements from Ghostbusters, Hellboy, Ghost and virtually every buddy cop movie ever made. 

But it borrows most heavily from Men In Black. Virtually every plot point and detail in MIB has an analog in R.I.P.D. There's a young Rookie learning the ropes from the Grizzled Veteran. They work for a secret organization that protects the world from supernatural forces (in fact the RIPD headquarters looks virtually identical to the one in MIB). They carry specialized weaponry and hunt down non-human threats. They drive a cool car. They even have a similar way of exiting their headquarters-- through a bathroom!

Many filmgoers are lambasting the film's special effects, in particular the CGI Deados. Ehh, I thought they were OK. They weren't Gollum quality, but they got the job done. Besides, bad special effects don't bother me. I grew up in the 1970s. After living through that, ANY effect looks special to me.

The critics are almost universally panning the movie, much like a schoolyard bully picking on the class nerd. Once again I have to wonder if the film's poor box office showing is due to audience disinterest or the critics scaring away business.

I honestly don't get why they seem to always gang up on one unfortunate picture. Film critics are much chickens in a henhouse; they arbitrarily decide one of their number is the lowest in the pecking order and then proceed to peck the living crap out of it until it's dead. Then they randomly pick another victim.

I'm betting the film might have done better if it had been released in the spring or fall. Anytime other than the incredibly crowded and competitive summer movie season.


Does Pulaski, the bloated Deado who leads Nick and Roy on a wild chase through the city look familiar? He's played by Devin Ratray, who was Kevin McCallister's older brother in Home Alone!

SPOILERS AHEAD!

The Plot:
Nick Walker is a Boston police detective and is devoted to his wife Julia. Unfortunately he's wracked with guilt after his partner Bobby Hayes (played by Kevin Bacon) talks him into stealing gold found during a drug bust. When Nick tells Bobby he's returning the gold, Bobby kills him in the confusion during a raid.

Nick wakes up in the R.I.P.D. (Rest In Peace Department), a supernatural agency that recruits dead law enforcement officers to protect the living world from "Deados," ghosts that refuse to enter the afterlife and return to Earth to wreak havoc.

His new boss Mildred Proctor (played by Mary-Louise Parker) teams him up with Roy Pulsipher, a former Texas Ranger who lived in the 1800s. Hijinx ensue as the two try to get along.

Nick then has to deal with the fact that he's dead, that he can't contact his widow (because sees him as an elderly Chinese man) and with the fact that his former partner Bobby is a Deado. Oh, and he has to find a way to prevent the end of the world.

Pros:
• The film has a very weird vibe that appealed to me. Steely Dan playing constantly in the background in the afterlife, the Deado's allergy to cumin and Indian food, everything breaking and rotting in the vicinity of a Deado-- it all felt like something I'd come up with if given the chance to make a movie (which is probably why I have no producer credits on my resume).

• Nick and Roy, played respectively by Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges, have a nice on-screen chemistry.

• I especially liked the Roy character and all his various quirks, including driving seventy miles an hour through town without looking at the road, and his ankle fetish (which makes sense, given the era he's from).

• Some of the Deados had interesting character designs.

Cons:
• I noticed at least one scene in the trailer that wasn't in the actual film: A Deado with a dozen eyes on its head menaces Roy and he quips, "I dunno which eyes t' shoot yah between!" I don't know why, but I hate when they have "trailer only" scenes. Maybe because it feels like false advertising to me.

• Do credits like this ever impress anyone? Does anyone in the audience even know what a producer does? "Man, that Producer produced the hell out of Fast And Furious, so you know this one's gonna rock!" Is that what the studio is hoping people will think here?

Product Placement Alert! When Nick first arrives in Proctor's office, she's sipping a vintage bottle of Fresca (which I didn't know still existed). I'm assuming this was meant to show us that she's from an earlier time and still enjoys things from the past?

• At one point Nick and Roy have a heated argument on a track field at night. It must be cold out, because the whole time they're yelling large puffs of visible breath pour from their mouths like steam engines. Wait a minute-- I thought they were both dead? So why are they still breathing?

• All R.I.P.D. officers are automatically assigned an avatar, a disguise to prevent the living from recognizing them. Roy's avatar is that of a sexy Russian supermodel. Nick's is that of an elderly Chinese man. Com-O-Dee!

I get that it's a joke and thought the concept was mildly amusing, but logically it raises a few questions.

The whole point of using avatars is so the agents won't call attention to themselves. But everywhere they go, men ogle and howl like slavering wolves at Roy's stunning female avatar. Way to blend in there! Seems like a more nondescript avatar-- something like Agent Coulson from The Avengers-- would make much more sense.

At one point Nick falls from a great height to the pavement below. A crowd gathers around him, concerned by what they think is an old man who's fallen to his death. Nick, holding his special R.I.P.D. revolver, springs up, dusts himself off and tells the crowd he's OK. The bystanders see this as an old man jumping up and running off while holding a banana.

So what do the living see when Nick actually fires his gun? Do they see an old man seemingly pretending to shoot a banana at a perp, who then implodes into nothing? 

Roy knows Nick isn't happy with his avatar, so at the end of the film he pulls some strings and gets him a new one: that of a ten year old Girl Scout. Well that's certainly not going to call attention to him. No one would ever look twice at a child behind the wheel of a car.

• During the big finale, multiple swirling vortexes into the afterlife (or something) open throughout the city. One such vortex opens in the middle of a parking garage, causing it to collapse and dump cars into the street, right in the path of Nick and Roy's vehicle.

Nick swerves wildly as he dodges cars and chunks of cement crashing to the pavement from above. Apparently this was the world's longest parking garage, because they drive through the falling auto obstacle course for a good sixty seconds of screen time and what seems like at least a mile.

R.I.P.D. is most definitely derivative, but it has a quirky sense of fun and benefits greatly from Jeff Bridges' performance. It's not great cinema but I was entertained, and in the end isn't that a movie's job? I give it a B.

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