Movie Review: “R.I.P.D.”

Films that fall into the “Comfort Food” category get a bum rap, I feel. Almost everywhere a person turns to on social media with respect to films, they’ll find a raging discussion over the merits of the Marvel franchise versus Scorsese’s films, and the discussion couldn’t be further from coherence if it tried.

That’s like comparing “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” to “Pride and Prejudice.” Sure they’re both films, and thus on equal footing when it comes to discussing techniques such as shot composition, framing, lighting, and blocking. But that’s it. They’re not even in the same realm as each other, yet are they for people of all ages to enjoy at their leisure.

So too are “comfort food” films similarly looked down on. I saw that when “RIPD” first came out in 2013 when reviewers compared it unfavorably to a knock-off of “Men in Black”, and on the surface they’re right. It follows all the same beats, there are exactly zero surprises anywhere, but the overall charm of the actors having fun playing over-the-top characters while acting on green screens is infectious. It’s F-U-N to watch for 90 minutes. Why is this a bad thing?

“RIPD” kicks off with Nick – played by Ryan Reynolds on the cusp of becoming ‘Ryan Reynolds’ down to the ticks and the constant sarcasm – as a Boston detective working with his partner Hayes, played with no small degree of smarm by Kevin Bacon, to take down a drug dealer who also may have had a hand in some illegal smuggling. Turns out that both Reynolds and Bacon stole some gold pieces from this drug dealer on a previous raid and want to make sure no one is left alive to talk.

Can you guess whether there’s going to be a betrayal? Will we see if those gold pieces are going to come back to haunt the plot? If you answered yes to either, then you may have seen a movie before. Any movie. Doesn’t matter which.

Reynolds dies during the raid, gunned down by his partner, and while en route to the giant Hoover in the sky, he gets sucked sideways (it makes sense in context) into a holding room where he meets Proctor, the uptight chief of the Rest In Peace Division of the Eternal Protection Services. Proctor, as played by the fantastic Mary-Louise Parker, is every uptight office manager from Hell that ever lived.

Proctor gives Nick a choice – work for the RIPD and go back to Earth to zap undead “Deados” masquerading as humans, or take his chances with judgment where they most certainly will take into account the fact that he and his partner were dirty cops. Nick opts to join the RIPD and is then introduced to his partner – Roy, veteran lawman from the Wild West played to the full hilt by Jeff Bridges. 

Roy is played as a supernatural Rooster Cogburn, so much so that watching the Coen Brother’s 2010 masterpiece “True Grit” before this is almost required. Bridges is flat-out hysterical in how far he takes the gruff lawman act, and the personal touches he crams into the role make him the true stand-out of a cast of scene-stealers. I’d watch another five films focused on just him if I could.

Where the “Men in Black” comparison accurately comes into play is when the action returns to Earth. There, Nick learns the hard way that he neither looks nor sounds like his old self and is instead using an avatar (something about the Universe protecting them, though it’s unclear why an undead cop who can fall off a building without taking a scratch and can survive anything except magic bullets only the RIPD possess would need such protection).

The trailer gives away how he and Roy look to regular humans, but the joke still lands hard every time it’s deployed. Director Robert Schwentke (“Red” and “Snake Eyes”) has a killer instinct for cut-aways and whenever the avatars are on screen, it’s never anything short of hilarious. It’s goofy but consistently funny, especially when they do it for a split second and you’re not expecting it.

Less consistent are the Deados. They’re shot in extreme close-up, and everything “off” about them is exaggerated to the point where subtlety is thrown out the window. Barry Sonnefeld did that in “Men in Black” and it was annoying there as well. Once a Deados’ cover is blown, they morph into a twisted version of whatever their human personality was (for some reason, Indian food brings out the worst in them). The make-up effects are solid, but the CGI additions are hit or miss, and that includes the big end-of-the-world CGI fight that all films of that time frame were legally required to conclude with.

The screenplay by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi is nimble and keeps things moving. The one-liners are solid, the cut-away gags always land, and I enjoyed the dynamic between a crusty lawman from the West and the new style of detective from current-era Boston. To the film’s credit, they stress the details of being a detective and a subsequent investigation which is more than others can say. Is it a supernatural “Law & Order”? Not in the slightest. When there are zombies to shoot in the face and while gravity-challenging chases to embark on, things like rules or quiet investigations get thrown to the wayside.

As I said at the start, “RIPD” is pure “comfort food”. There’s nothing here that is unpredictable, the characters are fun to hang out with, the stakes are – for the most part – relatable, and the whole thing is over and done with in roughly 90 minutes. It’s tough to find faults in a movie that exists solely to entertain audiences and make them laugh for a while. I may be getting old by saying so, but it’s true. “RIPD” is a lot of silly fun, and I had a great time with it. Check it out on HBOMAX right now and enjoy. 

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