There are absolutely no hackneyed jokes about this film to be made. I can’t even muster one pun about death or corpses or ghosts or whatever. It would be an indignity to all of those things. This film is too bad to have jokes wasted on it. Every bit as bad as the bad buzz that precedes it R.I.P.D. might just best the likes of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Elektra as the most awful comic book adaptation ever created.
Crooked Boston beat cop Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds) has just been shot repeatedly and murdered by his former partner (Kevin Bacon) over a dispute about some stolen gold. Instead of going straight to hell for constantly lying and doing the wrong thing, his skills as an officer land him as an officer in the Rest In Peace Department, a band of the world’s best dead cops dedicated to keeping the streets safe from “deados” that refuse to go quietly into the night. He’s partnered with a sheriff from the 1800s named Roy (Jeff Bridges), thrown into the body of an old Chinese guy to stay undercover in the land of the living, and is drawn back into his old life when it’s discovered that the gold he was killed over are pieces to the Staff of Jericho – a device that can bring all of the dead souls from the afterlife crashing back to Earth.
There’s no way that anyone at any point in time could have seriously thought that R.I.P.D. could have worked in this form. It’s so staggeringly incompetent that it’s even hard to pinpoint exactly when it went wrong. Everything about it is wrong. With the exception of Mary Louise Parker as the grizzled department commissioner, no one comes out of this mess unscathed or without a severe loss of dignity.
Nothing within the world of the titular department makes any sense, not because it couldn’t exist, but because the film never once bothers to create a world with any sense of wonder or suspended disbelief. It can’t even be bothered to create characters worth following around since the story starts roughly three minutes in and all we know about our alleged hero is that he’s a lying crooked cop. Does the film even attempt to develop Nick beyond that? Nope. It’s just time to get straight to the action, which is problematic on several levels.
First and foremost, director Robert Schwentke should never be allowed near a tentpole blockbuster again. After nearly botching a good thing with Red and making a mockery of the beloved bestselling novel The Time Traveller’s Wife, he reaches his ultimate nadir here. Not a single camera angle makes sense, he can’t stage or shoot an action sequence that doesn’t look absolutely terrible, and he has a complete dead ear for anything comedic or playful. With some filmmakers their style and ability can be traced back to another great that came before him, but Schwentke is so styleless and devoid of talent that it’s hard to believe he didn’t just pick up a camera yesterday and stumble into his success.
To be fair, though, it’s not like Schwentke gets any help from anyone else involved with the production. Entire scenes designed to actually explain the plot or deepen the characters have been so obviously hacked from the film that if it were exhibited on 35mm you could probably still see the splice tape. (Instead it’s in some of the worst post-conversion 3D in select theatres for no discernable reason other than to sucker people into the path of a megaton bomb.) It’s the kind of buddy cop movie where one second Nick tells his hirsute, hick talking partner that he wished he got skull fucked twice by coyotes when he died, and he walks away in anger only to have the VERY next scene – apropos of nothing – having them agree to save the world like they didn’t just dissolve the partnership seconds ago. And that all comes before one of the worst CGI hellhole final acts in recent memory.
There’s nothing to explain how the actual R.I.P.D. is any different from the monstrosities they track down or why they are killed in different ways. The film just seems content to simply coast on aping Men in Black (right from the very first shot of the movie, and probably unironically) and the set pieces from Ghostbusters (the entire final act) that it can’t be bothered to stop for a second to even say anything more than single phrases that come out almost like Neanderthal-like grunts. Buddies. Cops. Dead. Monsters. Guns. Bad. Grunt.
Even worse than that is that it can’t even be bothered to ask the really obvious questions that these fantasies need to address. How have humans never once noticed any of this since from what it looks like the creatures hunted by the R.I.P.D. are incredibly destructive to the point where no one at their stupidest could be that oblivious. They have no way to keep the public quiet or erase their memories, so how does this keep going on? Why aren’t there news reports everywhere about how people can get hit by cars on the street and never once look hurt and then continue chasing after a monster. Why during the big finale when there are useless hell mouths opening up everywhere for no reason whatsoever does the city of Boston mobilize even the regular police force? Why is it just these two guys from the R.I.P.D.? Nothing at all makes a lick of sense, but not in a fantastical way. It does it all in the most annoying way possible.
As for Reynolds and Bridges – two of the most charming and charismatic actors one could possibly hire – they are both equally to blame for the film’s failure. Reynolds doesn’t have anything to work with, but he also seems incredibly annoyed to be there. He doesn’t even have any way to turn his character into a charming smart ass or a loveable lout. He can’t even make anything work in the film’s tacked on subplot about trying to reconcile with the wife he left behind (played by Stephanie Szostak, who does fine because she does nothing at all). He’s just bland and ineffective, which makes his chemistry with the almost pungent performance Bridges gives even more non-existent.
Bridges is unhinged in a role that clearly “benefits” from receiving no direction at all whatsoever. There’s no way anyone ever stopped Bridges and told him to turn down the crazy even for a second. They didn’t hire Nicolas Cage or Robert Downey Jr. and Schwentke isn’t either of the Coen Brothers, who are capable of reigning in Bridges’ more eccentric touches. They hired Jeff Bridges, someone who doesn’t have the same kind of improvisational ability. His cowboy act gets tired about thirty seconds after he shows up, meaning the audience gets to spend 96 incoherent minutes in the hand of an asshole and a buffoonish jackass without any filter or wit. He just babbles on about coyotes, fending off “no account Injuns” back in the day, and his own ankle fetish to a point where Johnny Depp would tell him to cool it. He runs roughshod over the production and pretty much runs it into the ground.
About 50% of Bridges lines have to have been improved and often amount to incoherent non-sequitors that Reynolds doesn’t even know how to work with. The film is so terribly edited that home video viewers might even be able to catch Reynolds at one point throwing up his hands in frustration at the end of a scene before it cuts away. Of course, I can’t say for certain that this is what happens since the whole thing is already a blur to begin with. Let’s just say that Bridges is out of control and Reynolds looks so pissed he might just be having flashbacks to working with Wesley Snipes on Blade: Trinity (which is also still a better movie than this is).
As for Kevin Bacon, his villain is as underdeveloped as anything else in the film, but it’s hard to tell if he even knows what film he’s in. He might even be trolling the film, sensing something going in that the audience didn’t know. He’s not a particularly menacing villain, and when he tries to be funny it simply grinds the film to a halt. He doesn’t seem so threatening and his plans to overthrow mankind by the end of the film are so simple to foil that it doesn’t require two dysfunctional idiot partners to ruin it.
In the end, the now sadly tasteless and wholesale destruction of Boston in a horrendous looking CGI maelstrom might be the least of R.I.P.D.’s problems. The film is so bad that even if Universal wanted to go back and reshoot the finale, they had already wasted so much on the movie that it just wouldn’t be worth it anymore. It’s an unsalvageable project destined to be one of the biggest misfires in history regardless of its ultimate box office take. Let’s just hope it doesn’t put the careers of its leading actors on life support. See what I did there? I didn’t make a pun about death. You’re welcome.