Monday, July 22, 2013

R.I.P.D. - Theatrical Review

Release Date: July 19, 2013

Things weren't looking too optimistic for R.I.P.D. leading up to its release.  Audience awareness for the film was drastically low, the studio did a media blackout and refused to do any critic screenings up until a few hours before it was released (which is usually a huge red flag), and even the usual media blitz surrounding a new summer release, such as interviews with the cast, set visits and a number of other promotional material, was non-existent.

So, with such low expectations instilled by Universal's reluctance to show any confidence in their product, and the unapologetic way it seemed to borrow from a number of other well established film properties, this appeared to be a train wreck waiting to happen. Read the full review and discover its fate after the break.

Review Vital Stats:  
Theater: AMC 16 Tyler Galleria 
Time: 11:30 pm July 18, 2013    
Projector Type: Digital 2D   
Film Rating: PG-13   
Film Runtime: 1 hr 36 min 
Studio: Universal Pictures

Loves: Jeff Bridges 
Likes: The Men in Black movies, Ghostbusters, Ryan Reynolds, Mary-Louise Parker 
Neutral: Blatant copying of other successful movies formulas 
Hates: Why is there so much hatred leveled at this thing? 
Fact: Zack Galifianakas was originally cast in Jeff Bridges role

During a routine drug bust, Boston Police Detective Nick (Ryan Reynolds) is killed in the line of duty and suddenly finds himself in the afterlife being offered a position with the R.I.P.D.,the Rest In Piece Department. He accepts his new position and soon after is partnered up with veteran R.I.P.D. officer Roy (Jeff Bridges). Together, the two of them must clean up the streets of Boston byt racking down and arresting Deados, the deceased who missed their ride up into the sky for judgement and now linger hidden among the living, before their extended time on Earth takes a turn for the decomposed and putrid.

Let's get the obvious out of the way, R.I.P.D. is a near carbon copy of the Men In Black films. It's tongue in cheek style, it's goofy tone, it's extremely predictable story about trying to stop the end of the world from happening, it's buddy cop formula with the older and wiser cop talking down to and generally making fun of the younger cop. Most of all though, its dealings with things beyond our reality is a blatant ripoff of the MIB films (don't even try to defend it because it is based off a comic book, because so was Men in Black).

The parts that aren't exactly from Men in Black find their inspirations elsewhere. The one film that hasn't been mentioned all that much, probably because it wasn't featured in the trailer as prominently, was the number of Ghostbusters influences. A paranormal threat trying to bring about the end of the world, ghouls and beings from the other side, a special squad to take them down. They may not be as on the nose as the MIB comparisons, but they are most certainly there.

But here's the question that you should be asking yourself, which many aren't apparently as observed by looking over at that rotten tomatoes score. That question is whether or not the movie is fun regardless of its unrepenting need to steal from so many sources? Chances are that if you are a fan of either MIB or Ghostbusters or any film where you have good guys versus bad guys with the odds stacked against them fighting an otherworldly force, you will have a good time with R.I.P.D. despite the strong sense of deja vu if gives off. It's even more silly to hold any of that against it when it also features one of the most overused Hollywood cliches around, which is the buddy cop genre.

The cornerstone to every successful buddy cop movie in the history of film is the chemistry between the two cops. Pairing two disparate personalities together that clash but are able to find a common ground is a difficult thing to pull off. If the casting department can get that one thing right, then they already have the odds weighed in their favor. By putting the biting sarcasm and physicality of Ryan Reynolds against the unfettered flow of insults, that rough and gruff attitude and witty retorts of the slower, but wiser, Jeff Bridges, the film has already won half the battle (it's hard to imagine Zack Galifianakas as the character Roy, even though he was originally cast in the role).

R.I.P.D. benefits greatly from their constant banter that surprisingly never gets old the way you might think it would. Their consistent arguments over who had the worse death and which one has more regrets leads into some rather hysterical comments that are better left for you to discover, but let's just say that Reynold's isn't too kind with his remarks about what the coyotes did to Bridges corpse, particularly his skull. Bridges constant bitching about his hat and his affinity towards women's calves was also entertaining.

Sure, they are both playing extreme stereotypes, but you should already know that going in. That conceit is needed in actuality, as the clear mission of the film isn't to dwell on these guys lives (or deaths), it is to keep the action moving (which it does at a brisk 90 minutes) and keep the doses of comedy fresh and constant.

In one of the film's more clever, and perhaps only original idea, is how both men are disguised as these ridiculously absurd identities that only the living can see (they are forbidden to speak to the living about who they really are, so disguises are needed to keep their identities secret). Some of the film's best jokes come about because of this constant running gag. When we see Bridges and Reynolds chasing down a Deado through crowded city streets, the people around them are seeing this hot super model with breasts ready to burst out of her dress (Bridges) and an old Chinese man holding a banana (Reynolds) instead of the heroic duo we get to see, and their reactions are priceless (watching men hit on Jeff Bridges never gets old).

Where things start to derail a slight bit is when it comes to how the Deados are portrayed, and to some extent all of the supernatural characters, Bridges and Reynolds included. The only word that comes to mind when trying to explain their durability towards falling off buildings, being hit by cars and general damage to their body is that they appear to be made of rubber.

After falling down 30 floors and landing on the pavement face first, they are able to spring to their feet immediately and be in top physical condition. Likewise during this fun chase through the city where Bridges is being dragged all over the place by an over-sized Deado, he is impervious to anything that comes his way, the same goes for the Deados. What this does to the film, while intentional or not, is make the action seem very cartoonish (especially combined with the way the Deados animate and the goofy sounds they make), which could be a deal breaker for those looking for a more serious experience.

Other positives to mention are all the action scenes, which are all well shot and exciting (director Robert Schwentke was also responsible for the surprise hit Red from a couple years back and it shows). While the entire film is overflowing with special effects,  its the finale that truly impresses with some surprisingly fun set pieces that have our two heroes trying to outrun a black hole while driving a taxi cab and even having an old west style shoot out in the streets of Boston. The entire film just feels as though it wants to have fun at all times and aside from a few slower moments, it succeeds.

Special mention needs to go out to the casting people once again for bringing in the adorably quirky Mary-Louise Parker as the head of the R.I.P.D. as well. Besides just being a ray of sunshine whenever on screen (love those GoGo boots) and avoiding the horrible angry police chief cliches, she is able to even create a believable romance/flirtation with Bridges character (between this and the Red franchise, Parker is quickly becoming the go to actress for older/younger relationships in action comedies).

In an attempt to not oversell it, R.I.P.D. is one of the most derivative films that has come out of Hollywood in years, there just isn't anyway to argue against that. But it's gleeful tone, stylish action scenes and perfectly cast lead (and supporting) actors make it easy to overlook that fact. If you want a fun little movie to see this weekend that isn't taxing on the brain, is safe for audiences of all ages and never overstays its welcome, this can easily help you burn a couple of hours while keeping you entertained.

However, if you can't look past the shameless similarities to those other classic franchises, R.I.P.D. will do nothing but instill hatred in you until either the end credits role or you just get fed up and storm out of the theater. As long as you understand all of that, there is a good chance that you will enjoy your time with the R.I.P.D.





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