R.I.P.D. film review

A great performance from Jeff Bridges can’t save muddled comic book movie R.I.P.D.

On paper, R.I.P.D. has every reason to be a success: A Men In Black-style supernatural action comedy with Ryan Reynolds and a True¬†Grit-drawlin’ Jeff Bridges? Sounds like a lot of fun, doesn’t it? But it’s never a good sign when a film so clearly intended to be a blockbuster is allowed to limp so quietly into cinemas, and it was an accurate portent of what R.I.P.D. has in store.

Nick Walker (Reynolds) is a Boston cop who rethinks his decision to steal a drug lord’s gold pieces (yes, gold pieces), which leads directly to his dirty partner Bobby Hayes (Kevin Bacon) shooting him dead. Rather than face eternal judgment, Nick is offered 100 years working with the Rest In Peace Department tracking down “Dead-os,” who have escaped the light at the end of the tunnel. He’s partnered with grouchy Wild West lawman Roy (Bridges), and the two soon realise that the gold has some apocalyptic significance.

On screen, R.I.P.D. has all the hallmarks of a troubled production. The plot has been trimmed down to the point where perfunctory is too kind a term, and Nick’s progression from corpse to gun-toting undead lawbringer happens unnervingly quickly. Winston Zeddemore had more questions for the Ghostbusters than Nick does for his boss Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker). The film is also not particularly funny. When one of the biggest gags is that Roy and Nick’s living world avatars are a Victoria’s Secret model and genre legend James Hong (Big Trouble In Little China, Blade Runner) respectively, it makes the lack of repartee (but not chemistry) between Bridges and Reynolds even more difficult to understand. They’re barely given the chance to work on their buddy cop back and forth.

The CGI is, despite the film’s reported $130 million budget, stupendously bad, as the Dead-os look like poorly rendered creations from a sub-par video game. There’s no character development, there are surprisingly few jokes, and, simply put, there’s no personality. Given that the four leads are Reynolds, Bridges, Bacon and Parker, it’s stunning how devoid of personality R.I.P.D. is and at least some of the blame must lie with director Robert Schwentke (RED). It’s simply soulless.

It’s also yet another in a series of bad script choices for Reynolds who, once again, is not to blame for the film’s failings. He’s lumbered with a character whose only personality traits are missing his wife and frustration with his partner. It’s a desperately unrewarding leading role for the actor, who’s in desperate need of a hit. Parker works very hard to invest her authority figure Proctor with enough odd ticks and reactions to make her one of the most enjoyable parts of the film, but Bacon is essentially required to sneer on command.

Luckily, in the middle of this bland, muddled mess, there is Jeff Bridges. The actor swaggers through the film with an enthusiasm, wit and commitment that rescues R.I.P.D. from one star ignominy. It’s not just that he has all the best lines (which he does), it’s that it’s impossible to watch Bridges have this much fun and not enjoy it. Whether it’s complaining about how coyotes desecrated his corpse, railing against his superior officers, or throwing himself headfirst into action set-pieces, it’s the kind of film-rescuing performance that only truly great actors can give.

Bridges aside, R.I.P.D. is a misjudged mishmash of Ghostbusters, Men In Black and Dead Like Me that squanders the seeds of a good film and an excellent cast. However, saving graces don’t come much better than Jeff Bridges.