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Review: R.I.P.D

The morally ambiguous dead can make it to heaven by working for the Rest In Peace Department. The audience, however, doesn't get that option. 96 minutes of hell for us.

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ripdDirector: Robert Schwentke
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Bacon, Mary-Louise Parker
Length: 96 minutes

Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds) finds himself in an all-white, pristine room, sitting opposite a desk. He's a crooked cop who's just been killed by the fellow corrupt officer he was in cahoots with (Kevin Bacon), and now he's been presented with a choice: "you can take your chances with judgement, or you can join the R.I.P.D." As if to sway him, the woman sitting at the desk, Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker), gestures toward a large folder and says: "I know everything there is to know about you." Now, here's the funny thing: Ryan Reynolds' character has the depth and nuance of a squirrel's fart. So really, there's nothing at all to know.

Vacuous expressions, bland dialogue, and a narrower variety of (strained) emotions than my elbow, Nick Walker is a truly awful protagonist to which Reynolds adds absolutely zero. Soon after the office scene, he gets to attend his own funeral, and just to sum up his personality (and the film as a whole), his wife doesn't even look particularly bothered that he's dead. As for bad-guy Kevin Bacon, he exudes very much the gravitas and nefariousness he brought to the EE adverts.

The only actor or character really worth giving any credit to is Jeff Bridges/Roy Pulsipher, who seems to realise that in a story lacking any sort of consistency or coherence, creating an outlandish but enjoyable caricature is the only way to go. Roy's life as a 19th century American sheriff, and his slow death at the mercy of coyotes, always serves as an interesting back-story, but is barely utilised in his modern life as a gruff, go-it-alone R.I.P.D. agent beyond his slobbering over a cracking pair of female ankles.

And despite Pulsipher's merits, at the end of the day he's simply a spin-off, a rip-off of Bridges' previous performance as Rooster Cogburn in the 2010 remake of True Grit. Unfortunately this isn't R.I.P.D.'s only rip-off, as we see glaring Ghostbusters and Men in Black elements so poorly emulated that they make the originals look like masterpieces. As Nick and Roy roam Boston looking for "deados" (an ingenious colloquialism referring to dead guys who have escaped back to real life), they use special guns to send them back to where they belong. But it only works if you shoot them in the head. Although sometimes that rule doesn't apply. What?

I don't know whether to get started on inconsistencies and irrelevances like this, but they are absolutely everywhere. For example, at one point Nick is astonished to find that he cannot taste anything now that he's dead. Roy continues to eat, maintaining that he enjoys the texture. They can still interact with the real world through touch, smell, sight, hearing - but by God it's a good thing they can't taste because I'm damn sure the whole film would fall apart.

In addition, they cannot be perceived in their previous forms by living beings. Instead, Nick is seen as an elderly Asian man and Roy as a gorgeous female model. Why? Cheap laughs. Yet these "deados", who are in very much the same situation, can't see the agents' real forms either. Don't ask why. Or why, despite a wealth of technology, the R.I.P.D.'s internal affairs unit uses a system of pipes and scrolls to send messages.

Actually, there is one thing I really did like, and that's the use of the VHS tape. Its recurring appearances in the film have a symbolic meaning, as an object which is generally thought long-gone and useless, but is actually still around and at times invaluable: an excellent comparison with the dead agents trying to save the earth.

Nevertheless, appreciation doesn't last long, because you then remember that the only way these agents can reveal the true identity of disguised "deados" is by subjecting them to Indian food.

Could Robert Schwentke really have watched this back and thought, "nailed it"? A $130m budget (presumably spent largely on CGI, which is, quite frankly, never better than average) has been pumped into this film and absolutely squandered.

Maybe, if I want to figure out how the truck which Roy uses to disrupt the Staff of Jericho (what?) managed to become lodged on the roof of a ten-storey building, then I'll have to watch it all again myself.

However, I'd rather be dead.

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