Turning a comic book into a movie. Good idea. Turning a vaguely known comic book into a movie. Risky idea. Turning a vaguely known comic book into a terrible movie. Awful idea. In the last category falls this summer’s flick R.I.P.D. The movie is based on a comic book Rest in Peace Department published by Dark Horse Entertainment. It is a four issue mini-series published sometime in 1999. If you look for the reviews of the comic book itself on various websites, there aren’t any overwhelming fans of this series. So as the one making this movie, you should be aware that you will not get a rich fan-base to begin with. So what do you do? Well, you put in an extra effort, and make a splendid movie from the plot provided to you by the book, so that it delights a whole new bunch of people that had never heard of the comic before. What you do not do is, show up at the sets, go through the motions, and throw a badly enacted badly choreographed movie at the audience. And then hope that no one will notice your mediocre efforts. No, you cannot do that. You are bound to fall flat, face first!
R.I.P.D. is the story of a law enforcer Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds) who works with his partner Bobby Hayes (Kevin Bacon) for the Boston Police Department, and one day gets killed in the line of duty, leaving behind his grieving wife. Instead of ending up in either heaven or hell, Walker finds himself employed by R.I.P.D., a department that recruits dead police officers whose task includes capturing dead ones that have refused to cross over and are still hiding on Earth. Walker is briefed on his mission by Mildred Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker) and assigned to work with an annoying partner, Roy Pulsipher (Jeff Bridges), an ex-U.S. Marshal who used to live in the 1800’s. Back on Earth, the officers of R.I.P.D. look and sound different, and in this disguise the duo go about tracking a gold smuggling operation, which eventually has ramifications for the both, the living and the dead.
On the face of it, the story written for the comic books by Peter Lenkov is an intriguing one. And there was a solid foundation to begin with. That, as this movie proves, is not always good enough. The movie draws numerous parallels with Men in Black; the element of supernatural, the concept of a secret agency protecting the world from entities that no one else knows of, the partnership of a rookie and a hardened agent, and we even have guns emitting laser-like beams rather than bullets. What it does not have even remotely common with Men in Black is a humourous well-crafted and well-enacted movie. While Men in Black provided laughs, thrills, claps, entertainment in its truest form, R.I.P.D. leaves you with snores, be it yours or the one next to you.
While the movie fails in many departments, with the visual effects hardly worthy of a $130 million budget flick, the background score not capturing the afterworld feel, and the camera work not being anything inspiring, it would be easier (and justified) to pin the blame on the director for much of the fiasco. Robert Schwentke had pulled off two book-to-movie conversions in the recent past with better success, 2010’s Red and 2009’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, but his latest offering cannot be even called mediocre. The movie lacks imagination, almost at each step, it moves as if being forced, it hardly creates a moment of impact that would stay with you, and eventually it ends just the way it began… in a somber manner. The monsters created for the movie are the stuff that even 10-year olds would yawn at, and the jokes… well, there are hardly any.
Even in poorly pieced together movies, the audience can still take some heart from the performances of the lead actors. Not in R.I.P.D. Ryan Reynolds is a fine actor on most nights; even though he still has to give that one amazing performance for which an actor would always be remembered, he did put on a tough act well in The Safe House and won the ladies in The Proposal. So while watching R.I.P.D. all you can say is, Reynolds, you are better than this! Reynolds’ character never comes across as one you would worry about, or root for. His acting lacks the sincerity and heart he has been known for in the past, and well, that could be said for a lot in the cast and crew of the movie. Jeff Bridges is a veteran who is ripening with age, and yet it would be good if we never remember him as the cop in R.I.P.D. Be it the heavy accent, which becomes gibberish at times, or the cowboy act, that brings no memories of his fine performance in True Grit, Bridges comes nowhere to playing the Tom Lee Jones moulded mentor, as Ryan Reynolds is no Will Smith like rookie. Kevin Bacon in fact ends up doing a better job with the kind of character he had been provided with, again not one of his best ones. But it is really Mary-Louise Parker who truly entertains, as the R.I.P.D. director, in an otherwise lackluster movie. She carries with her a bit more confidence than the rest, expresses more comfortably, smiles and frowns with a freshness that makes you want to see more of her, rather than the repulsive looking monsters. The one light in an otherwise dud affair!
R.I.P.D. joins quite a long list of big budget flops this year, and for anyone who says that the reasons have anything to do with people preferring other options over movies, you are completely wrong. The reason is simpler than that… a badly made movie will not be rewarded. It is a tough weekend each week in Hollywood, movies come fast and furious, backed by strengths of franchises or popular selling books, and in such a world, the final product has to do its job well… it has to entertain. R.I.P.D. fails on that count and so its dismal opening in North America was no surprise. Hopefully, lessons are being learnt. Hopefully, there will not be many more movies this year to whom we end up saying… RIP!