Friday, August 30, 2013

Review: R.I.P.D.

I try to avoid Ryan Reynolds' movies.  I have seen him bomb in too many to have any faith in his ability to act.  Once upon a time, he was funny and entertaining, but it seems that as his career has progressed he has regressed.  Green Lantern and The Change-Up are two examples of his cinematic demise that immediately come to mind.  So why then, did I give R.I.PD. a shot given that nothing from the marketing, tracking, and word of mouth suggested that it was worth the one hundred and ten minutes of running time?  Boredom.  And truth be told, the movie did little to cure that ailment. 

At the film’s outset, it did not look like a complete miss.  The narrative starts out well enough painting a picture of the life of Boston Police detective Nick (Ryan Reynolds), a loving husband to his wife Julia –played by the fantastic Stephanie Szostak.  Partnered with fellow detective Hayes (played Mr. Six-Degrees himself, Kevin Bacon), Nick is struggling with the temptation to be a dirt cop, when without warning, he is killed in the line of duty.  Newly deceased, Nick get’s enlisted into the R.I.P.D. – a force of former law enforcement officials charged with sending the undead to judgment.

The most frustrating aspect of this movie is that for those first fifteen minutes, it feels like there is a real story here to tell.  Sure, Reynolds' turns in his usual mediocre performance, but with Bacon in the mix as his partner and Szostak bringing emotional value to the plot, I was interested in seeing how things would play out.  But then the film veered off into the world of the undead and tossed credibility out the window.   Sure, it may be difficult to fully blame director Robert Schwentke and writer Phil Hay as they were working off of the comic made famous by Peter Lenkov but the finished product ultimately proves that the duo were not equipped to pull this off.

Putting the source material aside, Hay’s adaptation is sloppy and his plot develops some gaping holes and Schwentke’s tone and pacing are wildly inconsistent.  Worse still are the special effects, which look like they came straight out of the early 2000’s, thus shattering what shred of credibility the movie manages to maintain.  So to say that this production is more or less a disaster from start to finish would be a very fair assessment. 

Still, no one individual does more damage to the film than Jeff Bridges.  As an actor, Bridges is an interesting case study in that even when he is a bit off with his effort and performance, he remains a threat to steal every scene.  Yet despite this talent and his very impressive resume, Bridges puts to film a performance that is so hammed up and misguided that the sound of his voice becomes grating to the senses.  It’s as if his sole purpose in this film was to be so bad that Ryan Reynolds would come off as the second coming of Dustin Hoffman.  And he almost pulls it off, because Bridges – his look, his accent, his delivery, is just that bad.

As for his partner in crime (or in this case, justice), the aforementioned Reynolds is a carbon copy of every performance he has given over the past five years.  As an actor, he has three facial expressions to convey emotion – one smirk, one glare, and one look of heart ache, and is content to cycle through the three to address whatever the script calls for.  As the deceased detective, he is affable enough and emotive enough to make sure you’re not completely apathetic to his plight, but he’s also not interesting enough to carry this film.  While I am not sure that any other actor could have replaced Reynolds and made this film more palatable, his performances reinforces my belief that the actor is best suited to play supporting roles and nothing more.

As for the supporting cast, I really enjoyed most of their work.  Mary-Louise Parker as Proctor has the repressed authority figure vibe down pat.  She is dry but fun and manages to share a bit of chemistry with Bridges despite his horrendous turn.  That alone deserves a measure of recognition.  And if there is anyone who can be dubbed the heart of this film, it would have to be Stephanie Szostak.  I am a huge fan of her work and found myself impressed with how she is able to play the sympathy card in a production that borders on the ridiculous.  Her presence makes it feel like something real is at stake amidst the cartoonish action.  And as for Kevin Bacon, he starts off well enough – straddling the line that is moral ambiguity, but to say that his performance unravels in the third act is a gross understatement. 

In discussing the cast, I would be remised if I did not mention Marisa Miller and James Hong.  Every minute they were onscreen proved to be my favorite parts of the movie.  The easy assumption would be that it’s because Miller is so incredibly easy on the eyes.   And while that might be part of the equation, the other half of that formula is the incredible sight gag that the two represent.  Much credit has to go to veteran actor James Hong, who shows his experience by flexing his comedic tics at just the right moments. 

There really is nothing more to say about R.I.P.D. other than that it’s just not good.  Bad writing and directing, poor special effects, and pockets of bad acting really sums it up.  Is there anyone type of movie fan out there in the world that I could confidently say would like this film?  No.  Are there any circumstances in which this film could be viewed as a good value play?  Probably not.  This one feels like it’s proper place in the world is at the bottom of the Wal-Mart $3.99 DVD bin and nothing more.  Stay away from it and hope that no one you care about ever makes the same mistake I made.

Standout Performance:  Marisa Miller and James Hong. 


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