Skip to main content

Damn. I don’t know what eyes to shoot you between.

R.I.P.D.
(2013)

Roundly slated as a Men in Black rip-off, R.I.P.D. has to face up and plead guilty as charged. It’s Men in Black without the star chemistry and servicing the strictly formulaic plotting of that series’ second instalment. Really though, it’s just pretty mediocre. This has been rather over shadowed by everything else it represents; further evidence that Ryan Reynolds is box office poison and also a huge loser for Universal as one of the biggest bombs of 2013 (barely making back half of its costs).


It’s curious how little this feels like a Robert Schwentke movie. His previous pictures at least feel fairly clean and precise in design and composition, from Flight Plan to Time Traveller’s Wife to RED. The only familiarity here is the cutout title/character designs used by RED (a style that was appealing when it first appeared, but is rapidly becoming over-used; we’ve also seen it in the likes of Tropic Thunder and Iron Man Three). Perhaps Schwentke was fully aware he was making an MiB movie, as this looks like nothing so much as if it was directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, with all the cartoonishness and noisy inelegance that suggests.


The premise of dead cops and lawmen retained to dispense justice in the afterlife (with the Rest In Peace Department) comes with a cumbersome and unfinessed mythology attached. They must police “Deadoes”, the deceased who refuse to move on quietly and choose to hang out in the physical world. Inevitably, there’s an ancient device (the Staff of Jericho) that, when assembled, will allow the Earth to be invaded en masse by departed souls. This kind of thing has been done before on TV; Brimstone, with no one’s favourite lead actor Peter Horton and a fun turn by Jon Glover as the Devil; also Good vs Evil, concerning a heaven-sent police force with a Blaxploitation vibe. Both of those aired around the turn of the millennium, and Peter M. Lenkov’s Dark Horse comic, upon which this is based, appeared about the same time. The long gestation period might well have been a warning sign, but the returned-from-the-dead righter of wrongs is a potent theme in everything from High Plains Drifter to The Crow, and even played for laughs it has potential. So what went wrong?


With Men in Black, even when the plotting was running on fumes (again, I’m thinking mainly of the second, but the third isn’t exactly ground-breaking even if it’s better than it has any right to be) the easy chemistry of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones kept it lively. R.I.P.D. has no such luck. Reynolds and Bridges are consummately professional with each other, but there’s no spark to their rookie and old-timer routine. It’s fashionable to rag on Reynolds, and I couldn’t say I have a particular beef with him generally one way or the other, but he doesn’t feel right for this. He’s been thrown a very straight revenge/lost love narrative arc (with a bit of guilt over some criminal activity in there too) and the sub-Patrick Swizzle Ghost malarkey doesn’t quite sit right with the broadness in every other aspect.


Bridges, meanwhile, is just taking the piss. Is there any reason other than his (deserved) True Grit Oscar nomination that he seems to be essaying the same beardy mumble-mouth at every opportunity since? I’ve been a fan since forever, but this does inevitably wear thin. His is a spirited performance – no one could accuse him of being lazy – but he’s just not very funny, and his turn creates the added problem of nigh-on incomprehensibility. Zach Galifianakis originally had the role, and that more contemporary mismatch might have worked better with Reynolds. You can easily imagine this went through a host of casting permutations before the producers begrudgingly settle on these two, just to hit a start date. As it is, they look like they should be in completely different movies and the tone is off as a result.


Adding to that unevenness, R.I.P.D. has some of the worst CGI in any major $130m movie I can recall.  It’s replete with the kind of shitty cartoony creature effects rife in pictures a decade or more ago (The Extraordinary League of Gentlemen, for example, or any given Stephen Sommers movie). They going for the Men in Black slapstick creature work, but what they’ve got is a sloppy digital mess. There’s nothing very inventive about the Deadoes visually, and the weightless CGI, with characters careening up skyscrapers or leaping to the ground from great heights, fails to be endearingly large-than-life. Mostly because it’s all so slipshod and lacking in any discernable quality control. Schwentke just has too much going on; this is busy, busy, busy, without the style to compensate.


On the plus side, R.I.P.D. doesn’t labour the point. It has some zip to it and, as undernourished as it is in terms of originality, it occasionally hits its targets. There’s an Eternal Affairs department, which investigates R.I.P.D. policing issues. Kevin Bacon is in familiar bad guy mode but he’s good loathsome value, as is a brief appearance from Robert Knepper (Knepper would actually have been a much better fit for lead villain, since he has a naturally broader style). Mary-Louise Parker has a smallish role, but her comic chops are a strong as ever (and she’s better catered for than in RED 2, which came out at the same time). And Stephanie Szostak makes an impression in the Demi Moore role, particularly when you consider she was signficantly less endearing in Iron Man Three the same summer.


As slipshod and derivative as much of this is, it does occasionally raise a smile. Best are the avatars of Bridges’ Roy and Reynolds’s Nick; humans see them as a voluptuous blonde (Marisa Miller) and an old Chinese guy (the peerless James Hong) respectively, such an incongruous combination (and accompanied by a raucously effective use of slow motion and Robyn’s Konichiwa Bitches) it can’t fail to raise a smile every time we cut to them (which just can’t be enough times, as it happens). Then there is the Deadoes’ reaction to spicy food, particularly enjoyable when it’s Knepper mugging away with over-the-top disgust. The presence of Hong, so wholly without equal in Big Trouble in Little China, reminds you that movie is the sort of wild, whacky and witty ride this should be aspiring towards. Unfortunately it’s nothing of the sort.


But I can’t be that down on R.I.P.D. Visually it’s frequently quite ugly, and jarringly edited. It’s noisy and lacks panache. The leads just don’t mesh and the script is hasn’t an ounce of originality. But as bad movies go, it’s rarely actually offensively bad. And occasionally it’s actually borderline good fun.


**1/2

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Life is like a box of timelines. You feel me?

Russian Doll Season One
(SPOILERS) It feels like loading the dice to proclaim something necessarily better because it’s female-driven, but that’s the tack The Hollywood Reporter took with its effusive review of Russian Doll, suggesting “although Nadia goes on a similar journey of self-discovery to Bill Murray’s hackneyed reporter in Groundhog Day, the fact that the show was created, written by and stars women means that it offers up a different, less exploitative and far more thoughtful angle” (than the predominately male-centric entries in the sub-genre). Which rather sounds like Rosie Knight changing the facts to fit her argument. And ironic, given star Natasha Lyonne has gone out of her way to stress the show’s inclusive message. Russian Dollis good, but the suggestion that “unlike its predecessors (it) provides a thoughtfulness, authenticity and honesty which makes it inevitable end (sic) all the more powerful” is cobblers.

We’re not owners here, Karen. We’re just passing through.

Out of Africa (1985)
I did not warm to Out of Africa on my initial viewing, which would probably have been a few years after its theatrical release. It was exactly as the publicity warned, said my cynical side; a shallow-yet-bloated, awards-baiting epic romance. This was little more than a well-dressed period chick flick, the allure of which was easily explained by its lovingly photographed exotic vistas and Robert Redford rehearsing a soothing Timotei advert on Meryl Streep’s distressed locks. That it took Best Picture only seemed like confirmation of it as all-surface and no substance. So, on revisiting the film, I was curious to see if my tastes had “matured” or if it deserved that dismissal. 

Mountains are old, but they're still green.

Roma (2018)
(SPOILERS) Roma is a critics' darling and a shoe-in for Best Foreign Film Oscar, with the potential to take the big prize to boot, but it left me profoundly indifferent, its elusive majesty remaining determinedly out of reach. Perhaps that's down to generally spurning autobiographical nostalgia fests – complete with 65mm widescreen black and white, so it's quite clear to viewers that the director’s childhood reverie equates to the classics of old – or maybe the elliptical characterisation just didn't grab me, but Alfonso Cuarón's latest amounts to little more than a sliver of substance beneath all that style.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

We’re looking for a bug no one’s seen before. Some kind of smart bug.

Starship Troopers (1997)
(SPOILERS) Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi trio of Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers are frequently claimed to be unrivalled in their genre, but it’s really only the first of them that entirely attains that rarefied level. Discussion and praise of Starship Troopers is generally prefaced by noting that great swathes of people – including critics and cast members – were too stupid to realise it was a satire. This is a bit of a Fight Club one, certainly for anyone from the UK (Verhoeven commented “The English got it though. I remember coming out of Heathrow and seeing the posters, which were great. They were just stupid lines about war from the movie. I thought, ‘Finally someone knows how to promote this.’”) who needed no kind of steer to recognise what the director was doing. And what he does, he does splendidly, even if, at times, I’m not sure he entirely sustains a 129-minute movie, since, while both camp and OTT, Starship Troopers is simultaneously required t…

Even after a stake was driven through its heart, there’s still interest.

Prediction 2019 Oscars
Shockingly, as in I’m usually much further behind, I’ve missed out on only one of this year’s Best Picture nominees– Vice isn’t yet my vice, it seems – in what is being suggested, with some justification, as a difficult year to call. That might make for must-see appeal, if anyone actually cared about the movies jostling for pole position. If it were between Black Panther and Bohemian Rhapsody (if they were even sufficiently up to snuff to deserve a nod in the first place), there might be a strange fascination, but Joe Public don’t care about Roma, underlined by it being on Netflix and stillconspicuously avoided by subscribers (if it were otherwise, they’d be crowing about viewing figures; it’s no Bird Box, that’s for sure).

Now we're all wanted by the CIA. Awesome.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)
(SPOILERS) There’s a groundswell of opinion that Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is the best in near 20-year movie franchise. I’m not sure I’d go quite that far, but only because this latest instalment and its two predecessors have maintained such a consistently high standard it’s difficult to pick between them. III featured a superior villain and an emotional through line with real stakes. Ghost Protocol dazzled with its giddily constructed set pieces and pacing. Christopher McQuarrie’s fifth entry has the virtue of a very solid script, one that expertly navigates the kind of twists and intrigue one expects from a spy franchise. It also shows off his talent as a director; McQuarrie’s not one for stylistic flourish, but he makes up for this with diligence and precision. Best of all, he may have delivered the series’ best character in Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust (admittedly, in a quintet that makes a virtue of pared down motivation and absen…

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.