R.I.P.D. review: A familiar take on a new world

It’s strange to think that a movie with a $130 million budget could be considered an underdog at the box office, but that’s exactly the situation R.I.P.D. finds itself in this weekend. The new supernatural action film from Red director Robert Schwentke faces some tough competition from a new animated feature from Dreamworks, as well as the star-filled sequel to the aforementioned Red, and Saw filmmaker James Wan’s latest scare-fest, The Conjuring, which already has lots of positive buzz behind it.

It’s a scenario that puts R.I.P.D. in a rough spot when it comes to audiences’ tendencies, and even an impressive cast might not be enough to carve out a place for this entertaining – if somewhat familiar – movie among the weekend’s big releases.

R.I.P.D. does manage to be a fun, entertaining film – despite any unfavorable comparisons with other movies.

Much like Red, R.I.P.D. is a film that draws inspiration from a relatively obscure comic book, with Ryan Reynolds cast as police detective Nick Walker, who’s killed in the line of duty, only to find himself drafted into the “Rest In Peace Department.” After agreeing to join the R.I.P.D. in exchange for the chance to return to the land of the living (and a good word from the higher-ups when it finally comes time to face judgment), Nick is introduced to his new partner, Roy Pulsipher (Jeff Bridges), an Old West lawman with a fast draw and an ornery disposition. The pair then hit the streets in search of “deados” – malevolent souls hiding on Earth to avoid judgment in the afterlife – and (predictably) discover a diabolical deado’s scheme to destroy the world. Can the odd-couple cops overcome their differences and save the day? (Is there really any doubt?)

And therein lies the most troubling element of R.I.P.D.: the feeling that we’ve seen all of this before.

In far too many ways, R.I.P.D. feels like a retelling of Men In Black that swaps supernatural monsters for aliens. Instead of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, R.I.P.D. offers up Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges – the latter of which takes the “old-school” theme even further back into American history. With the exception of a subplot involving the wife Nick left behind, R.I.P.D. offers many of the same story beats and themes as Men In Black, while going a little heavier on the digital effects and the scale of many action sequences.

Still, R.I.P.D. does tread some distinctly new ground – especially when it comes to some of the recurring comedic elements and its two lead characters. The story plays around nicely with the notion that Nick and Roy appear as entirely different people to the outside world (Nick is an older Chinese man played to perfection by the great James Hong, while Roy is an outrageously attractive blonde played by Marisa Miller), and whenever Schwentke switches between what Reynolds and Bridges are doing, and what the world perceives them to be doing as Hong and Miller, it’s pretty much a guaranteed laugh every time.

RIPD
Based on the Dark Horse comic, R.I.P.D. also star Mary-Louise Parker (above), Kevin Bacon, James Hong, and Marisa Miller.

There’s also some good chemistry between Reynolds and Bridges that propels the movie along, though the ever-present Men In Black comparison (and with it, the comparison to Smith and Jones’ chemistry) distracts from some otherwise clever interactions.

Sadly, more (and bigger) isn’t necessarily better when it comes to the use of computer-generated effects in R.I.P.D., as the film suffers from some digital overkill with its misshapen monsters, and a few action sequences rely too heavily on post-production effects. (Seeing the film in 3-D made these elements particularly noticeable.) It all feels a bit too cartoonish at times, and prevents the audience from connecting with the characters as much as they might otherwise be able to do.

Conclusion

It may have an unenviable position in this weekend’s box-office lineup, but R.I.P.D. does manage to be a fun, entertaining film – despite any unfavorable comparisons with other movies. As the film with the highest budget of this week’s openers, it has the most to lose, but as we’ve seen time and time again with sequels and remakes of existing projects, offering a new experience to audiences rarely translates to box-office success.

So, now the question becomes: Will the seen-it-all-before vibe of R.I.P.D. help or hurt the film when it arrives in theaters? We’ll find out soon enough.

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