It’s difficult to consider R.I.P.D., the new film starring Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds as the Afterlife police, as anything other than a shameless copy of 1997’s Men in Black. Off the bat, the similarities were so obvious that there were already derisively toned lists comparing the two a full three months before the new film’s release.
Sometimes, though, the seeming void of creativity is an illusion—the result of the disparately paced tracks by which a story travels from source material to Friday opening. A few production hiccups can cause a project started years earlier to arrive in theaters months behind its “clone.” But no, even the comic upon which the movie is based, Peter M. LenkovRest in Peace Department, came out in 1999, two years after the first Men in Black. There’s no real way around it—R.I.P.D. is just as profoundly and completely derivative as it appears.
It’s also, thanks in large part to Jeff Bridges and Mary-Louise Parker, fairly fun.
Reynolds plays Nick Walker, a Boston cop who meets a sudden and unsurprising end, only to be recruited pre-eternal judgment into the R.I.P.D., a law enforcement agency of the dead tasked with apprehending those restless types who refuse to go gently into that good night. Nick’s new boss, Procter (Parker), pairs him with Bridges’ cantankerous but oh-so-verbose Roy Pulsipher. Even without the Men in Black template, what follows is well-established cop fiction cliché: The rookie learns how much he doesn’t know. The veteran grouses. They soon stumble upon something much bigger than anyone realizes (which also seems to be connected to Nick’s untimely demise). Upping of the stakes—and the accompanying CGI action sequences—commences.
Bridges has entered the carefree “Caine Era” (or “Irons Age”?) of his acting career. Like Michael Caine (and Jeremy Irons), the younger Baker Boy’s dues have long since been paid and his acting chops established (and rewarded via the Academy). Thus, the man formerly known as “the Dude” can take on most any role and grab any paycheck without worrying that it will harm his career. In R.I.P.D., Bridges appears to relish this freedom—his lawman seems like a 96-minute experiment in character splicing: “What would be the result if you combined Rooster Cogburn with Jeff Lebowski?” The result is actually pretty entertaining—Bridges’ delivery accounts for a good portion of the film’s laughs. (Strangely, this relegates the usually banterful Reynolds to the role of straight man. Apparently, there’s only room for one comic relief chatterbox per detective duo.) In the second of her two films opening this week (Red 2), Mary-Louise Parker and her go-go boots provide a healthy quotient of deadpan humor.
Outside of Bridges’ vim and Parker’s Parker-ness, the rest of R.I.P.D. is pretty forgettable. The production values are a few shades less sophisticated than the Men in Black franchise, the plot a bit more hole-ridden. Being as derivative as it is, it’s nearly impossible to feel any lasting enthusiasm for R.I.P.D. (just as it was difficult to feel any anticipation going in). Yet it’s also hard to hold much of a grudge. The cast and crew of R.I.P.D. seem to know they are involved in a low-calorie, lightweight endeavor (if a $120 million film can be considered “lightweight”). Prospective filmgoers would do well to know it, too—and adjust their expectations accordingly. Seen via Redbox, Netflix, or the local $1 movie theater, R.I.P.D. just might not seem like such a criminal waste of time after all.
Director: Robert Schwentke
Writer: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi (screenplay); David Dobkin, Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi (story); Peter M. Lenkov (Dark Horse comic)
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Bacon, Mary-Louise Parker, Stephanie Szostak
Release Date: July19, 2013