Would honest Boston cop Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds) really steal some gold and bury it under an orange tree just to provide for his French wife (Stephanie Szostak)? No, I didn’t believe it either. This is the premise of R.I.P.D., a mix of MEN IN BLACK and GHOSTBUSTERS with overweight ‘Dead-o-s’ standing in for aliens.
MEN IN BLACK was a film about the tipping point inherent in racial integration. People from different races - or, if you prefer, from different planets - can live alongside one another as long as they did not get ideas above their station. In R.I.P.D. the threat is from over-eaters, a kind of BLUBBER HO-TEP, who masquerade as normal-sized people but actually consume way above their contribution to society. You could say the film posits welfare claimants as a problem; it appears to offer a critique of the HERE COMES HONEY BOO BOO set. Whether Americans got the subtext or not, they gave R.I.P.D. a really indignant polite decline. It was one of the flops of the summer.
In R.I.P.D. Nick takes a bullet in the head from his partner (Kevin Bacon, texting it in) and has an out-of-body experience where real life is frozen, just before he is sucked up into the clouds. There he finds himself in front of Mildred Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker, who has a good line in billy-goating) the seen-it-all-before ‘Dead Personnel’ officer. Nick is in a form of limbo. He hasn’t reached judgement, where he’s likely to get the thumbs down for his misdemeanour. (God is like some Siskel-Ebert figure.) He has the opportunity to get a better rating if he serves in R.I.P.D, policing the Earth from the pernicious influence of dead people.
So far, so promising! Nick is paired with Roy, a whiskered-up cowboy played by Wild Bill himself, Jeff Bridges. Bridges does not even attempt to play a credible human being. He’s a caricature lawman tortured by memories of being torn apart by coyotes. ‘They were darned frisky,’ he says. ‘Do you know what they did to my skull?’
Don’t try to subject the film to logic. You might wonder why R.I.P.D. is modelled on a modern police force and does not reflect the era in which it was created; surely it should be like a sheriff’s office! Moreover, who created the R.I.P.D? Did God take His ideas from humans or is it the other way around? Do you think R.I.P.D has Microsoft 2013?
For every good idea – Nick and Roy walk the Earth in different bodies, Nick a short Chinaman, Roy a curvaceous blonde – there are plenty of ones that haven’t been worked out. Do the cops possess actual people and how do they ensure that their equipment on Earth is in good working order? (That’s cars, not Silicon implants.) Their cover – improbably - is a VCR repair shop. Nick asks: ‘Who repairs VCRs?’ Roy: ‘Exactly!’
R.I.P.D. creates more problems than it solves. The officers create carnage but are not accountable, except to ‘Eternal Affairs’, a good pun, but not a fully worked-out idea. Moreover, in their disguises they don’t interact with ‘live-o’s’. What are the rules? We know they cannot reveal themselves – when try to their speech comes out as gibberish – but how do they co-exist?
You could forget all these questions if the film had a good mid-section, but it is stuff we’ve seen before. It’s like GHOST without Whoopi Goldberg; you wonder why there aren’t some humans who can see dead people. Kevin Bacon’s sleaze cop wings for Nick’s widow and then gold turns out to be parts of the Staff of Jericho; it can summon the Dead back to life. Then it goes all GHOSTBUSTERS on us, without the surprise of Mr Stay Puffed.
What is frustrating about R.I.P.D is that you can see the comic possibilities popped by some studio executive party poopers. It boils down to one man getting his hat back, à la INDIANA JONES, whilst another says goodbye to his wife, just like in GHOST. There’s a joke about precincts but it washed over me. Moreover, even the visual effects are below par. The director is Robert Schwentke who made RED and THE TIME TRAVELLER’S WIFE. He’s let down by a script credited to David Dobkin, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi. It’s based on a comic book, but not a popular one as far as I can tell. R.I.P.D. feels like a rip-off or, as I would charitably prefer, reasonable idea, poorly done.
Reviewed at Cineworld West India Quay, Screen 5, East London, 15:50 screening Sunday 22 September 2013, in 3D but glasses-wearers won’t notice