Dire "R.I.P.D." Among The Worst Of The Year

It had been years since I last experienced the mid-film siren call of the glowing, red exit sign, but as “R.I.P.D.” washed over me, I wanted nothing more than escape. When it was over, it took all of me not to run from the theater out of sheer embarrassment. If an usher were to ask me what I thought, I was fully prepared to pretend that I had gotten lost and ended up in the wrong theater. Since the film wasn’t screened for critics, I paid to see it at the earliest possible showing, making me a willing, borderline eager participant. I shuddered at the thought of being labeled as such.

In the film’s wake, I began to envision the film’s creators as scummy, villainous cretins. Not out of hate, dear reader, but out of hope. I’d hate to think that any decent, talented people might be caught in the crossfire of this mess. As the film is on track to be one of the summer’s biggest flops, it’s likely to end a few careers, and the only thing more depressing than the film itself is the thought that some nice, hardworking people might lose their jobs over it.

Ryan Reynolds, without so much as a shred of the easy charisma he displayed early in his career, stars as Nick, a well-intentioned cop who, upon his death, is recruited by an otherworldly police department – the titular R.I.P.D. The film, based on a graphic novel by the same name, has been widely accused of lifting its premise from the “Men In Black” series. And while those accusations are well deserved, at least on a cosmetic level, one can only wish it had one-tenth of the charm, wit, or inventiveness of those films – even the much maligned “Men In Black II.”

Jeff Bridges co-stars as Roy, Nick’s ornery, gunslinging partner who has served with the R.I.P.D. since his untimely death sometime in the 1800s. Sub in grotesque “Deados” for the aliens of “Men In Black” and Mary Louise Parker for Rip Torn’s Zed, and you have yourself the low-rent MIB clone that many expected but no one actually wanted. The only major difference here is that Bridges’ grumpy old guy is the ostensible comic relief to Reynold’s straight man. Relegating Bridges to endless mugging and consistently unfunny one-liners is just one bad decision in a long line of them, but it’s one of the picture’s most glaring problems.

Roy is the film’s Jar Jar Binks, with more facial hair but minus some of the racism (don’t worry, there’s still plenty of racism to go around). “R.I.P.D.” sees Bridges as bad as he’s ever been, and it’s downright bizarre to see him struggle so mightily. By the time his character begins to wax poetic about “soul stank” and “spiritual deodorant,” it’s all over. The story is so slight, so uninteresting, that not even the most esoteric dialogue can make any headway. It just comes off as desperate. The battle for coherency is lost so early in the game that audiences will have checked out long before the film becomes slightly less terrible in its third act.

Not even Kevin Bacon’s suitably slimy villain is able to register more than a dramatic punch or two, and his storyline comes at the expense of the film’s biggest sin – its absolutely putrid special effects. I can’t blame Universal for recognizing the film’s shortcomings early enough to decide not to splurge on state-of-the-art CGI, but the effects work here is the worst I’ve seen in any studio picture, by a wide margin. The visuals aren’t even up to straight-to-cable standards, let alone what audiences have come to expect from summer special effects bonanzas. Most video game cutscenes look better than this – even those from previous console generations.

“R.I.P.D.” is the kind of terrible that doesn’t wash out, destined to be remembered among the pantheon of big budget bombs like “The Adventures Of Pluto Nash” and “Cutthroat Island.” It continues Ryan Reynolds’ streak of headlining pricey garbage (following 2011’s wildly unsuccessful “Green Lantern”), likely cementing his status as box office poison. And as for Jeff Bridges, it’s hard to fathom what he saw in this project from the get-go, but it’s certainly an unwelcome black mark on a mostly stellar filmography. In the end, the film’s most prominent sight gag is an “All R.I.P.D. Members Must Wash Their Hands Before Returning To Work” sign. That’s as tidy a summary of the experience as I can provide. Avoid.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ out of ★★★★★ (Very Bad)

Release Date: July 19, 2013
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: Robert Schwentke
Screenwriter: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Bacon, Mary-Louise Parker, Stephanie Szostak, Robert Knepper, James Hong, Marisa Miller, Mike O’Malley, Devin Ratray
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for violence, sci-fi/fantasy action, some sensuality, and language including sex references)