Feb 2, 2021
From the director of RED comes R.I.P.D. (2013), which has at its core a pretty simple concept: supposedly, there’s an entire deceased police force designed to protect the planet from the evil souls that skip out on Judgment Day. And while the story might be painfully predictable, ripping off Men in Black, Ghostbusters, and even the Patrick Swayze movie Ghost in a variety of ways, every now and then, the movie throws in a random, stupid, and often flat-out nauseating “joke” that overall makes this a truly bizarre and unpleasant viewing experience.
The film begins in Boston, with a would-be corrupt cop named Nick (Ryan Reynolds) burying some gold that he and his partner Hayes (Kevin Bacon) stole during a drug bust. Nick tries to reassure himself he’s okay with his actions, but by the time he gets to the police station, he’s had a change of heart. With a guilty conscience, Nick tells Hayes he’s going to turn the gold in, but before the two can discuss the matter further, they’re called out on another major bust.
In an instant, the cops are bursting in on a huge meth lab. Nick thinks he sees the ringleader heading upstairs, but instead he finds Hayes, who says he can’t let Nick turn in the gold. He shoots Nick point blank, knocking him off a ledge which causes him to fall to his death. Nick wakes up to an entirely still scene, as if time had been frozen, and he soon finds himself levitating up through a hole in the clouds.
The next thing he knows, he’s sitting in an office with a woman (Mary-Louise Parker) with a nameplate on her desk that reveals she’s the “Proctor”. The Proctor tells Nick that he just died, and is being offered the chance to delay his ultimate divine judgment by working for the R.I.P.D. (That stands for “Rest in Peace Department”, which doesn’t really make sense without the word “police” in there, does it?)
The department is tasked with bringing in evil dead people, referred to as “deados”, who have somehow escaped Judgment Day and returned to earth to cause more havoc, and are also able to transform back and forth between normal-looking people and grotesque, mutated monsters. The Proctor partners Nick up with Roy (Jeff Bridges), an old cowboy who died back in the 1800s, who’s supposed to show him the ropes.
Despite his disdain for having a partner, Roy takes Nick to his own funeral. There, Nick tries to communicate with his wife (Stephanie Szostak), but she doesn’t know who he is. It turns out that when members of the R.I.P.D. return to earth, they take on different forms, so that they’re not recognizable to their former loved ones. To outside observers, Nick now looks like an elderly Asian man (played by James Hong), while Roy appears to be a blonde supermodel (played by actual blonde supermodel Marisa Miller).
With this rather confusing setup established, Roy takes Nick on their first assignment. Roy has a pretty good knack for tracking down deados, and shows Nick how to look for signs of them, like dead plants and foul odors. This leads them to a rundown apartment, where the two cops claim to be with the Department of Health before pushing their way in and interrogating the suspect.
Roy tells Nick to read off the questions on a set of cards, and all of them are based around eating Indian food. Meanwhile, Roy eats a container of takeout curry. For reasons never explained, Indian food is Kryptonite to the deados, and the one they’re interrogating eventually freaks out, turns into his grotesque monster form, and vomits all over the floor. Except, instead of his lunch, he throws up chunks of the same kind of gold Nick stole when he was alive.
The deado escapes, but eventually our two heroes apprehend him. And now Nick is hung up on the mystery of the gold, and he convinces Roy to help him investigate. They go visit Roy’s informant (Mike O’Malley) who claims the gold is worthless, but then they trail him as he hands over the gold to Nick’s old partner Hayes. They then follow Hayes to Nick’s house, where he digs up the gold Nick buried and takes it to another deado.
Roy and Nick corner this deado, who then changes into a giant, disgusting CGI fat guy who can apparently climb walls like Spider-Man, which leads to a big shootout on the streets.
The duo eventually gets all the gold back, and when they return to headquarters, the Proctor informs them the gold is part of an artifact called the “Staff of Jericho”. When assembled, the Staff can reverse the portal to the afterlife and allow all the dead to return to earth, which apparently means the end of life as we know it.
Eventually, the two realize that Hayes is a deado, so they proceed to arrest him and bring him into the station. But just like every other action film released in the last 6 or 7 years, the villain wanted to get caught, you see, and Hayes detonates a device inside the station which freezes all the R.I.P.D. officers. This allows Hayes and his fellow deados to grab all the pieces of the Staff of Jericho, and head back to earth to assemble and activate it.
And it seems the Staff requires the blood of an enemy to be activated, so of course Hayes abducts Nick’s wife for this purpose. Nick and Roy rush to the scene and fight all the deados, and after a little struggle and some sharpshooting, the two manage to take down Hayes, destroy the Staff, and save the world.
Nick’s wife is injured in the fight, causing her to have a near-death experience where she finally sees the real Nick and he gets to say farewell. The movie then ends with Roy and Nick heading out on their next case, except now Nick has to take on the appearance of a Girl Scout for some reason.
This film is supposed to be an action comedy, but you won’t find many laughs here. The only funny aspects of the film were probably Reynolds and Bridges’ alter egos. There are a few moments where we see Bridges doing something, followed by someone else’s view of Marisa Miller doing the same thing (with Roy’s gun apparently being seen as a hair dryer, too), which is occasionally amusing. Also, it turns out the (unguarded) portal from the afterlife to the living world is the bathroom in a VCR repair shop, with the joke being that no one has stepped into a VCR repair shop in decades.
But overall, the humor in R.I.P.D. is a lot more lowbrow and sickening than it needs to be. The design of the deados is just gross, and when you add in the running gag about Indian food and vomiting that makes no sense, I’m guessing concession sales suffered a bit during the theatrical run of this movie. Also, the profanity was way overdone, to the point where nearly every other line had the word “shit” in it. I’ve got nothing against profanity, but it’s as if they thought we would burst out laughing every time someone said “shit”, which clearly wasn’t the case.
The action in the film is not quite as bad, and might have almost been exciting had it not been surrounded by awful humor. However, the character CGI is mostly abysmal, considering what we’ve seen in other big budget movies recently. Most of the deados don’t look anything close to real when they’re in monster form, so for most of the action scenes, you’re watching people battle it out with weightless, massless cartoons.
If anything, I would have expected the acting in this movie to shine despite the story. Instead, Ryan Reynolds is clearly just phoning it in. Jeff Bridges does put in some effort, and maybe his grizzly, straight-shooting character would have been funny in a different movie, but here his shtick eventually grates on the nerves. And Kevin Bacon was pretty much just whiny and obnoxious throughout, but that seems to be his new thing, I guess.
This movie aims to be a comedy, but ultimately, the real punchline is that it got made in the first place. It’s based on a comic book published by Dark Horse, so I’m guessing someone somewhere thought, “it’s a comic book movie, and people love comic book movies, so it’s gotta make money!” They should have run that idea past the makers of Scott Pilgrim or The Losers to see what they thought. On a more positive note, R.I.P.D. was one of the biggest bombs of 2013, so instead of anyone having to endure an even worse sequel, this is one franchise that will thankfully rest in peace.