Movie Review: “R.I.P.D.” = “Jonah Hex Redux”

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Jeff Bridges collects a big paycheck but burns through a good chunk of his reservoir of Oscar-winning good will with “R.I.P.D.,” the worst comic book adaptation since “Jonah Hex.”
I’d say he drags Ryan Reynolds down with him, but Reynolds is an old hand at mediocre movies adapted from that medium. As Nick, he’s a bland and generic Boston cop – morally tested by temptation, murdered by his immoral partner (Kevin Bacon).
It’s Bridges, doing a sort of Wild Bill/Rooster Cogburn by way of The Dude, who sticks his neck out. He’s a long-dead Old West lawman named Roy who is Nick’s new partner in the Rest in Peace Department, dead cops who get to redeem their reps, post mortem, by keeping the Evil Dead in their place.
And as faintly amusing and reminiscent of Tommy Lee Jones’ “Men in Black” as turn this might be, there’s no way these  two smart guys didn’t see this was piffle on the page. Whatever the director of “Red” and “Flightplan” might have promised, this was a movie with no depth, no intellectual heft and zero ambition. There’s not an original thought, action, character or situation in between the big, expensive and generic effects.
Good comic book movies have scripts that simply use them as a launching pad to something deeper. Bad comic book movies showcase the shortcomings of that medium — broad, “colorful” characters in inane stories where their occasional one-liner doesn’t lift this junk to literature.
A little “Ghost,” a lot of “Men in Black,” “R.I.P.D.” has Mary-Louise Parker as the Proctor of the Afterlife, the station chief who pairs up partners and gives these guys their marching orders. Keep the “Dead-Os” — MIB-like monster people — from returning to Earth and taking over.
The cops have appropriate weapons. The living can see them, just not in their former guises. So Roy looks like bombshell blond Marissa Miller, and Nick can never convince his widow (Stephanie Szostak) that he’s not the Chinese character actor James Hong. More should have been done with that.
Roy is a trigger happy gunslinger “willin’ to lethal up” when the need occurs. Nick just struggles to adjust to being nearly indestructible, but able to feel the pain of plummeting from great heights and getting hit by a truck. Roy sings, plays the concertina, does cute tricks with guns and his hat, wisecracks about the “soul stank” of the Dead-Os they hunt, and makes Nick “Get yer snowman on.” Be Frosty, in other words.
Bridges has all this exposition — explaining the afterlife — to get through. With a drawl. Bacon wears his usual lip-curled evil sneer and Reynolds tries to stay professional even though his face says, “First ‘Green Lantern,’ now this.”
Only Parker, deadpanning her way through an afterlife where Steely Dan plays on the Muzak and Fresca is the soda of choice, escapes scorn. You kind of wish she’d been paired with Bridges in a mismatched buddy comedy — one that has nothing to do with comic books. I’ll bet Reynolds wishes that, too.
1half-star
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, sci-fi/fantasy action, some sensuality, and language including sex references.
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Mary Louise Parker, Kevin Bacon, James Hong
Credits: Directed by Robert Schwentke, screenplay by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi. A Universal release.
Running time: 1:35
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9 Responses to Movie Review: “R.I.P.D.” = “Jonah Hex Redux”

  1. Ian Fisch says:

    I read this review without a good understanding of why this movie is bad. Most of it is just a plot summary.

    There’s literally one sentence that describes the movie’s specific failings. In that sentence, you call the story “inane” and the characters “broad”, yet in all the time you spend describing the story and characters, you never back up this statement.

    I’m sorry, but this was a pretty poor review, in my opinion.

  2. Ian Fisch says:

    By the way, I have no doubt this movie is terrible from the mere fact that it’s literally playing now and this is the only review.

    That said, I think this review could have done a much better job explaining why.

    • There are plenty of “value judgements” in there, for those who know what they look like. And FYI, the reason this is the first review up online is that the studio hid this from critics. Hint, they don’t hide movies they’re proud of. Even the Smurfs is earning pre-release critic screenings. Sorry if you were looking forward to it. They knew it was crap months ago.

  3. “Bad comic book movies showcase the shortcomings of that medium — broad, “colorful” characters in inane stories where their occasional one-liner doesn’t lift this junk to literature.”

    Is this really what you think of the comic book medium as a whole? Because there are poor comic book movies, like Jonah Hex, Green Lantern, and RIPD, it shows that the medium is weak? That’s one hell of a horrible generalization. By that logic, I have to think all books are bad because those Twilight movies were awful. It’s a movie based on a book, so all books must be bad.

    Please refrain from generalizing a whole medium because a few turds. It really just shows your lack of understanding on the subject.

    • Good screenwriters and directors find themes, backstories and zeitgeist elements to run with when they’re adapting comics. But some don’t get that merely making a comic “fit” on the screen isn’t enough. There’s not enough “there” there. Comics are thin on a lot of the things that great storytelling — in novels, plays and films — requires.

      • Mr. Moore, I am not denying some comics are thin junk that function merely as picture books. You will find garbage in any medium. My issue lies with the fact that you call the whole medium “junk” while also saying they are not literature. It’s a generalization that insults the works of many great writers and artists.

        I’m going to assume that isn’t how you feel about all comics, and I may be looking too far into your phrasing. On the off chance that you feel all comics are junk, I suggest picking up “V for Vendetta” or “Batman: Year One.”

      • Sorry you took offense. But having read comics — as a kid and more recently,as research — and graphic novels and series and the whole nine yards, the only person who would ever confuse this stuff for great literature is someone who isn’t reading great literature.
        One reason there are good comic book film adaptations is the amount of breathing room that the thinly plotted, broadly sketched in characters that comics feature allows a creative screenwriter license to roam, flesh out and improve the broad parameters provided by comics. Joss Whedon gets this, which is why he didn’t tamper with Shakespeare — much — but invented, whole cloth, a story for the back-story-already-provided “Avengers” to partake in, with meatier dialogue (one-panel one-liners included).
        I don’t regard comics as lowbrow a source material as the various toy inspired or video game based junk fare Hollywood produces. But the fact that so many of comic adaptations are made is due to “Nobody in Hollywood reads” and “They’re established brands”, at least as far as the Comic Con corner of the culture is concerned. Not because they’re this generation’s Iliad. The Dark Knight films have characters from the comics, but themes and stories that are richer and typically more topical than anything I’ve ever read that has comic fanboy approval.
        And movie lovers have a right to complain of comic book film fatigue. “Man of Steel” had no heart, “IRon MAn” was fine for what it was — empty calories. But thank God that’s over with, “RED 2″ is still fitfully amusing, “Kick Ass II” looks weary and now “R.I.P.D.” Enough already.

  4. Art says:

    Roger,
    I find it commendable that you defend your reviews in the message board. A fresh idea, but might be ultimately frustrating and futile for you considering the comments people usually leave.
    I was looking forward to R.I.P.D., because of the premise and presence of Bridges alone, but of course I knew it wouldn’t be good when it wasn’t screened for critics. Yes, it seemed very derivative, but derivative of a tone and type of movie I always crave (Ghostbusters, MIB, Shaun of the Dead.) R.I.P.D just looked like fun, unlike a lot of the summer movies, such as Pacific Rim which looked tedious and was. Now, it’ll just be another film that is so much squandered promise, it can never be properly buried (LXG?). It’s the meal that always looks and smells fabulous, but also always brings discomfort after. This is doomed to become one of the many cable-tv whores, used regularly to catch surfers attention for at least for a few rounds of commercial breaks before it’s awfulness cannot be denied (Wyatt Earp).
    I remember when not screening a film for critics, used to be the release-plan for smaller genre films of the 80′s. Usually, it was low budget, slightly critic-proof horror and fantasy, because of a built in niche market that wouldn’t be affected by reviews. Occasionally, there would be a bigger film, but mostly it was smaller, under-the-radar films, where no one would cry foul if there wasn’t a review in the Friday paper. While technically this is the same genre, it’s sad that a $130m investment is dump-able. For a brief moment, recently, we were starting to believe that Hollywood wasn’t writing off these huge investments before release. They were willing to throw more money at it, and reshoots did not necessarily make a bad movie (WWZ). This one must have been hopeless from the beginning.

    There will probably be a director’s cut bluray/dvd to cash in on that already broken, but still alluring promise of what the film should have been. Ugh, these might be the worst type of film failures.

    • There may be a longer cut of this one. You’re right. This is a 90 minute cut. But seriously, who needs to see more? I love feedback from readers. As long as it’s polite. You don’t get to ask “Did you even SEE the movie?” or call names. I see the movies, I take notes. Otherwise, I’ll take criticism seriously and respond accordingly. People who choose to go to a movie have a different perspective/investment in it than me. Not more valid, just different. I never mind hearing that.

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