What awaits us after we die? It is a question that has been pondered by holy men, philosophers, songwriters and men and women at the pensive stage of inebriation. But no matter what you believe in, the answer may be the Ultimate Joke, since we spend so much of our lives, a certainty, thinking and hoping and worrying about what is really only a probability. It’s the mainstream equivalent of pondering who would win in a fight between Godzilla and Cthulhu (hint: it’s Godzilla), or the Enterprise and the Battlestar Galactica (hint: it’s the Enterprise), or if Adam Sandler will ever stop making bad comedies (hint: only when the seven mystical daggers from Megiddo are driven into him and he’s finally killed).
Peter M Lenkov, a screenwriter for movies (DEMOLITION MAN) and TV shows (HAWAII FIVE-0, CSI: NY, THE DISTRICT) has also put his hand towards comic books, and in 2001 created REST IN PEACE DEPARTMENT, which attempted to answer the Unanswerable: there’s Heaven and Hell all right, but if you try to avoid Judgement and hide on Earth, there’s a law enforcement group dedicated to sending you where you belong, or to Oblivion: the R.I.P.D.!
And because comic books are currently hot properties, it was probably inevitable that a movie adaptation was made (though it took twelve years), but one arrived this summer, directed by Robert Schwentke (RED, THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE). It opens with two guys chasing and shooting at a big blobby guy who crashes through walls and climbs up buildings – not Spiderman in his Fat Elvis stage, but something else – as one of the guys introduces himself, and we flash back several days.
Now we see the man, Boston PD detective Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds, GREEN LANTERN), burying some pieces of gold under an orange tree in his backyard, where his wife Julia (Stephanie Szostak, IRON MAN 3) won’t find them. The gold came from a drug bust made by Nick and his partner Bobby Hayes (Kevin Bacon, TREMORS), and both of them confiscated the gold rather than check it in as evidence. But though Nick intends to use the gold to make a better life for himself and Julie, his conscience compels him to change his mind, and to warn Bobby of his intentions. Bad move: later, during a raid on a warehouse, Bobby kills Nick and frames one of the criminals.
Time seems to stop, and Nick’s soul is pulled up into a huge vortex of light and cloud in the sky, where he sees countless other souls who have just died being pulled up as well. But at the last minute, he’s drawn back down again – into a stark white office where Steely Dan plays in the background, and where Mildred Proctor (Mary Louise-Parker, RED), the director of the Boston division of the R.I.P.D., explains how they recruit deceased law enforcement agents to patrol Earth and find and arrest “Deados”, spirits who slipped through the proverbial nets and run amok among the living.
Because of Nick’s sins when he was alive, his imminent Judgement looked shaky, but he is given a chance to make good first by joining the R.I.P.D., and assigned a partner, Roy Pulsipher (Jeff Bridges, THE BIG LEBOWSKI of course), a U.S. Marshall killed in the 1880s. Nick agrees, thinking he’ll return to Julia. But of course it’s not as simple as that: when he visits his own funeral and sees his widow, he learns that the living see him, not as Nick, but as an elderly Chinese man! And if he tries to explain himself, only gibberish comes out (though Nick’s chagrin at his avatar lessens when he discovers that Roy’s avatar is a hot Russian babe).
A disheartened Nick works with Roy seeking Deados, but his interest perks up when one Deado they obliterate turns out to have more of the same gold Nick and Bobby had taken. Further, they learn that not only is Bobby collecting more gold, but that he seems to be aware of the R.I.P.D. and the Deados… and that he has something big planned. And by ‘big’, I mean ‘Apocalyptic’…
Firstly, the positives. R.I.P.D. is a fast-moving action comedy, the pace is fine, and the effects are decent and imaginative. The cast is solid, in particular Ryan Reynolds (making this his fourth comic book movie appearance, after BLADE: TRINITY, GREEN LANTERN and the first WOLVERINE movie), Jeff Bridges, hamming it up as a more ebullient version of Rooster Cogburn from TRUE GRIT (originally Zach Galifianakis was cast as Roy, but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts), Mary Louise-Parker playing it deadpan (Jodie Foster was originally lined up for the role), and Kevin Bacon, who knows how to put meat on even the lightest of roles. And the ‘rules’ set up are unusual (the Deados’ spirits decay in various ways, but can remain human-looking as long as they stay away from Indian food!).
But the negatives… how can I put this? There doesn’t feel like there’s an original bone in the body of R.I.P.D. I’ve not read the original comic books, but if they’re anything like the movie, then Peter Lenkov is a big, big, BIG fan of MEN IN BLACK. Just about everything in R.I.P.D. is reminiscent of M.I.B.: new guy recruited into shadowy organisation, older gruff partner, deadpan boss, secret headquarters with fabulous technology, bizarre weapons, no contact with former family members, strange creatures living among us ordinary humans, informers, interrogations, the fate of the world at stake, etc. Just substitute ‘ghosts’ for ‘extraterrestrials’ and you’re there. And the resemblance extends to the look, the humour, the soundtrack (and the initials for a title)… if director Schwentke was seeking to trick people into believing this was a paranormal spinoff of MEN IN BLACK, he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.
I don’t expect one can have a totally original plot anymore, but this movie takes the cake and stuffs it with genetically-modified cream. There’s even a point in the villain’s plan involving him getting captured so he can get into the heroes’ headquarters, ala the Joker, Loki, Javier Bardem in SKYFALL, Khan in STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, etc. And what isn’t ripped off – or at least inspired by – MEN IN BLACK, well, you’ve got GHOSTBUSTERS, HELLBOY, the TV series DEAD LIKE ME, and maybe even JONAH HEX, a scary enough concept in itself.
But if I seem overly harsh about the movie, it’s not my intention. It wasn’t screened in advance for critics, never a good sign, but R.I.P.D. is not as bad as the critics have made it out to be. I never lost interest in what I was watching, and was funny and engaging, if totally derivative. The trailer is below.
Director: Robert Schwentke
Plot: 3 out of 5 stars
Gore: 3 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Derek “Deggsy” O’Brien. The ‘D’ is silent. It knew too much, and had to be Neuralysed