There’s no doubt in my mind Universal gave up on R.I.P.D. as soon as they saw a first cut and were willing to only do the bare minimum to salvage what they could. The final product looks unfinished from the beginning as a giant blob of a man storms down a hallway, busts through a wall and chaos in the streets ensues. On top of this, many additional effects look unfinished and temporary, and while it’s not as if effects would have saved the picture in any way, they are evidence of a production left floundering.
The film underwent reshoots at the end of 2012 as I can only assume Universal decided it was best to spend a little extra money on story rather than effects and while I wouldn’t say R.I.P.D. is an all-out disaster, it falls apart little-by-little before it settles on an ending we’ve seen countless times before. As the sky opens with Hell on Earth upon us we look on with eye-rolling wonder saying, “Oh no, will the heroes save the day or will the bad guys win? Oh… the horror!”
Leading up to this not-so-original finale, fortunately they managed to find a way to finish the effects on a building that comes crashing down as cars are thrown about. Thank God! It’s not like we haven’t seen that before.
Based on Peter M. Lenkov‘s Dark Horse comic, R.I.P.D. was written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, the duo that collaborated on such universal hits as Clash of the Titans and Ã†on Flux, which should immediately give you some idea of what’s in store.
The film gets its title from the idea there is a police department that watches over the Earth from beyond the grave. The aptly named organization is known as the Rest In Peace Department (R.I.P.D.) and after his partner double-crosses him, Boston police detective Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds) is initiated among the department’s ranks. Here he’s joined by a veteran sheriff from the 1800s, Roy Pulsifer played by Jeff Bridges who decided to do the entire film using the same voice affectations he used for Rooster Cogburn in the Coen brothers’ True Grit, the only difference being Roy is quite a bit more garrulous than Rooster and the novelty begins to wear off very, very quickly.
Just seeing a trailer will inspire comparisons to the vastly superior Men in Black, which has been blended together with Ghostbusters as Nick and Roy team to police souls that have escaped judgment and have been hiding among Earth’s citizens. In the process they stumble on a plot to collect the pieces of an ancient artifact that will reverse the ascension of the dead to judgment and instead send the wicked straight back to Earth. Why this makes any sense is never quite clear, but I suspect it’s covered in the “bad guys will do bad things” section of the “Screenwriting for Beginnners” manual so we’ll just accept it and move on.
There’s a touch of Ghost mixed in as Nick feels the need to haunt his now widowed wife (Stephanie Szostak), but instead of channeling Whoopi Goldberg, he looks like an elderly Chinese man (played by the oft-funny James Hong), and as it turns out, this is one of the few running gags that gave me a laugh or two throughout. Roy is also seen differently by humans, though instead he has the appearance of a gorgeous blonde played by Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Marisa Miller. Again, it works, especially the imagery of a supermodel thrown into buildings as she attempts to wrangle in an escaped monster of a man, or “Deado” as they are referred to in the film.
Otherwise you’re looking at a film that feels soulless and empty. As a matter of fact, it’s a perfectly fitting addition to a summer of big budget films that all seem to pick up after where the other left off. It’s a shame to see a cast that also includes Kevin Bacon and Mary-Louise Parker couldn’t be used to greater advantage, but such is life.
I have no idea what the script for this thing looked like before they went into production, but hopefully studio execs and producers will begin looking a little closer at these projects and when they get to the moment in the screenplay where it says, “And then they have a car chase through the street where portals to other dimensions are opening and buildings are crashing down to the ground,” they’ll ask themselves, “Why?” Because if they can’t answer that question the same must be asked about the film itself.