So did Scarlett Johansson put a curse on Ryan Reynolds’ career after their divorce? Because there can be no other explanation for Reynolds starring in R.I.P.D. After a few years of duds, this is what he chose to be his comeback movie? It’s the worst movie of 2013 so far, and I shudder to think what could possibly beat it. (And yes, I’ve seen Grown Ups 2, and R.I.P.D. is still worse.)
The film is based on a comic book, “Rest in Peace Department,” by Peter M. Lenkov, but it has three story adapters and two screenwriters and there’s no sense of consistency around any of it. Starring Reynolds and Jeff Bridges as unlikely partners working as undead cops, the film basically copies all of the beats of the first Men in Black film, but without any of its easy-breezy tone. Will Smith had more charisma than Reynolds does here, and Tommy Lee Jones’ cantankerousness wasn’t yet a joke. Their young upstart/older, crotchety mentor dynamic felt fresh. Everything about Reynolds and Bridges feels rehashed, lukewarm. This movie had a $130 million budget; where did it go? It’s certainly not showing up onscreen.
The plot, from what I could make of it, is this: Boston police officer Nick (Reynolds) helps his more corrupt partner Hayes (Kevin Bacon) steal some pieces of gold during a drug bust, with intentions to use his piece to provide a better life for his wife, Julia (Stephanie Szostak). But the guilt is nagging at him, so he tells Hayes he’s going to come clean, leading his obviously immoral partner to kill him to cover up the crime. Along the way to judgment, Nick is swooped up by the Rest in Peace Department and encouraged to join; 100 years of service will help wipe his dirty cop slate clean, which might allow him to go to Heaven eventually.
But what does the R.I.P.D. actually do? Well, according to Proctor (Mary Louise-Parker), it’s their responsibility to gather up dead humans who have refused to leave the Earth; their rotting souls are what cause decay, global warming, sickness, and every other ill of human society. So the officers of the R.I.P.D. arrest them and deliver them on to judgment, allowing humans to live happy, productive lives. (There is no discussion that death is needed to keep populations down, or that sickness can help spur developments in science and technology, or anything else; it’s as reductive as, “death is bad and we need to get rid of it.”)
So yeah, Nick decides to join up, and he’s paired with the Civil War-era Roy (Bridges), who throws out lines like “I’m a one-man operation” and calls him “Rook” and refuses to let him shake his hand, because he’s “gotta earn” that opportunity. When you’re done wading through the clichés with me, let’s get to the point of the film, which is that the Dead-Os are gathering up pieces of gold for some mysterious, nefarious plot of their own, and oh man, is Nick’s piece of gold going to be involved?, and why does Hayes keep lurking around Julia, anyway? Why? Why? WHY?!
And sprinkled throughout that are a bunch of nonsensical plot twists and idiotic film backstory that are delivered mainly through long, drawn-out explanations clunkily fit in with the rest of the dialogue. At one point, when the pair have discovered that the Dead-Os are looking for an artifact that can help bring about the apocalypse, Roy complains, “They got one of those artifacts for everything!” But really it’s that the film tries to have an excuse for everything it does wrong, which is so, so many things, and even then fair amount of inexplicable details slip through the cracks. Dead-Os are supposed to be sentimental, but why? Does that suggest that people who go to heaven aren’t sentimental? Why would that be a bad thing? How are the Dead-Os able to hide their decay from humans; why can they switch between identities? Why does Indian food gross them out? Why? Why? WHY?!
Perhaps the incoherency of the film would be more palatable if it looked great, but no. The vast majority of it is created with CGI, but not the high-level stuff; the Dead-Os look fuzzy and blurry and nondescript, and if you see this film in 3-D, the murkiness and darkness make things even worse. And the way director Robert Schwentke shoots the action scenes—all fast zooms, extremely rapid cuts, and first-person-shooter video-game views—adds to the confusion. Who is shooting at who? What was that big blob over there? Why are we still using slow-motion, 300-style tracking shots? Why? Why? WHY?!
I am going to keep repeating “Why?” because I have very little else to say about this epic trainwreck of a movie. Please, please don’t see it. Value your time more than I did.
(Yes, there are no Guttenbergs down here because the rating for this review is zero out of five Guttenbergs. Zilch.)