In its never ceasing demand for audiences for its latest productions, it is inevitable that Hollywood will be examined by those to whom those wares are marketed, and in recent years, more than ever, criticism has focused on the repetitive templates demonstrated by summer blockbuster films and their minimal character and plot development in favour of overwhelming special effects. If ever there was a film which encapsulated and validated that criticism, it is R.I.P.D. which embodies every worst practice of the movie industry.
The story of two dead policemen who are resurrected to resume service in the Rest In Peace Department, there could not be a more accurate metaphor for Hollywood, chewing and regurgitating tired ideas back onto the screen, as lifeless and humourless as the zombies they effectively are, it should genuinely have been sent to rest in peace rather than the projection booths of multiplexes.
It has been suggested that the art of storytelling is not so much to tell a new story as to find a new way to tell and old story, and certainly many of our greatest films have derived from archetypes dating to mythology, but it must be remembered that the key to success is the ability to arrange the pieces of the jigsaw in such a way that they can seduce an audience with unexpected twists which keep the tale modern and relevant.
Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds) and Bobby Hayes (Kevin Bacon) are officers of the Boston Police Department who share a secret relating to gold stolen during an investigation. In an act of penitence, Nick informs Bobby he is going to come clean but that he will not involve his friend, but during a drug bust Bobby takes the opportunity to shoot Nick, blaming it on the criminals.
For Nick, however, death is just the beginning, his soul offered the chance to join the Boston division of the R.I.P.D., an afterlife police force who apprehend “Deados,” spirits who failed to cross over after death and remain as troublesome ghosts. Seeing a chance to chance to contact his wife, Nick agrees, and is partnered with the more experienced Roy Pulsipher (Jeff Bridges), a 19th century US Marshall, but returning to Earth, Nick and Roy’s investigations into the Deados indicate a link back to the stolen gold, and so to Bobby.
With all the pieces in place, does the fun begin? I’m afraid not. Based on the comic book by Peter M. Lenkov, director Robert Schwentke, best known for the idiotic Flightplan and the not as clever as it thought it was RED, has mashed together the style of Men In Black with the plot of Ghost with no attempt to modify or blend them together, a curdled an unappetising chimera, failing to draw inspiration from more interesting yet still appropriate material such as Beetlejuice or Constantine.
Reynolds is a variable actor who can be good given the right material, but neither he nor the normally dependable Bridges are able to function with the barely sketched material they are given by a script whose five credited writers boast Æon Flux and the remake of Clash of the Titans among their credits.
The banter between Nick and Roy is tiresome, with Bridges’ accent becoming unbearable within the first few minutes, the joke that the appearance of their avatars differs from their expectation funny only for the length of a trailer, not a full film. Far from the camaraderie of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones’ Agents J and K, there is a lack of any chemistry or bond between the characters, nor are any of the supporting characters developed beyond functionary roles.
These failings could be forgiven if the action was entertaining enough to provide diversion, but that is also absent. Shootouts and car chases are standard and rendered in such low quality that they do not deserve the term computer generated images, more akin to previsualisations from the early stages of production, unfit to be in a complete motion picture. Offering effects that are in no way special, with no effort made to give them the depth of reality, the creators of R.I.P.D. have merged the discrete layers of the action in the style of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? with each of elements proudly displaying their divergent evolutions.
Despite the vast budget and excellent cast, R.I.P.D. is a failure in every way possible, proof, as if any were needed, that ripping off successful ideas from other works is in itself no guarantee of success.