★ / ★★★★
Nick (Ryan Reynolds), a former cop, is dead, finds himself sitting in front of Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker), director of the Rest in Peace Department stationed just above Boston, and faces a decision: to join the department and hunt Deados, spirits that somehow managed to escape Final Judgment, back on Earth or to embrace the possibility of being sent to hell. Nick chooses the former and he is paired with Roy Pulsipher (Jeff Bridges), an older gentleman who died during the Old West. Though the new duo are off to a rocky start, their bickering is set aside when they discover strange goings-on involving Deados and chunks of gold.
“R.I.P.D.,” written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, offers nothing but special and visual effects. It lacks the imagination, wit, and comic timing that made the likes of Ivan Reitman’s “Ghostbusters” and Barry Sonnenfeld’s “Men in Black” so rousing and entertaining. Thirty minutes in, one realizes that the film is unable to move on from the first act. One waits for something—anything—to happen. It remains stagnant even way past the one hour mark and it turns into a great struggle to sit through.
Part of the problem is Roy and Nick’s partnership. Though the actors perform their parts with appropriate verve, the writers fail to turn the characters into people with substance. There are only two sides to their interactions: they get into shallow disagreements—which is supposed to be funny, maybe in an alternate universe—or they are on the same page, temporarily, while being in the same room as a Deado. Because their relationship is only two-sided, it gets predictable real quick and one gets no enjoyment watching them.
More painful are the scenes in which Roy and Nick are forced to connect with one another, supposedly in a meaningful way. I did not buy it for a second. It is easy to see through the script and the lack of effort put into it. Why bother to insert such a phony scene when it further cheapens an already weak material? Did it not once occur to the filmmakers that it wasn’t working, that it was better off to leave the sentimentality out the door? Maybe they felt the picture needed to hit the ninety-minute mark.
The monsters are not interesting. All of them are made out to be ugly, bad, and they do nothing other than to function to as figures to be shot at. There are a few chase sequences in the streets of Boston and one does not need spectacles to see through the obvious CGI. There is simply too much thrown on screen for us to be able to appreciate any level of artistry put into the work. I looked up the budget of the film and, to my surprise, it is over one hundred million dollars. This is the best they can come up with?
Directed by Robert Schwentke, “R.I.P.D.” is bottom-of-the-barrel fluff. I found no magic, inspiration, or delight out of it. Sci-fi action-fantasies should be more thrilling. In the least, it should feel alive—vibrant—even if the story involves the dead.
★★★ / ★★★★
Retired agent of the CIA, Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) began to flirt with Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker) over the phone. The pair seemed to make a genuine connection. But when assassins came sneaking into Frank’s home, after disarming them with relative ease, he had no choice but to meet Sarah in person because he believed that they were after her, too. Reluctant at first, she eventually realized that maybe this was the kind of excitement and danger she needed–feelings she only encountered in books she so often enjoyed reading. “Red,” which was actually an acronymn for “Retired: Extremely Dangerous,” was a slick action picture that made the smart decision to not reveal its aces too early in the game. Frank and Sarah traveled across America but we, like the dynamic duo, didn’t exactly know why they were being hunted by the CIA which was led by a young agent with a blind ambition and a nice haircut (Karl Urban). The action sequences offered nothing particularly new but they were inspired because the filmmakers and the actors injected a certain hyperkinetic energy to such scenes. I noticed that during the intense violence, the film would often cut to Parker’s brilliantly executed bewildered and sometimes utterly confused expressions. She may not be able to fight but she was charming and we always knew why she was perfect for Frank. We were supposed to relate to her because she represented ordinary folks plucked from the mundane and thrown into extraordinary events. The film benefited from strong and very colorful, to say the least, supporting characters. John Malkovich was excellent as the paranoid former agent with a penchant for hilarious sneak attacks. Morgan Freeman was sublime as the gentle aging man but could easily kill men half his age when pushed to a corner. Helen Mirren was fantastic as the British lady who enjoyed overkill. I’m used to seeing her play roles where she had to be soft and elegant so it was refreshing to see her wield gigantic machine guns. They had individual spark but the real magic was in their interactions. However, the weakest part of the film was how the revelation of the mystery was handled in the end. Questions involving the hit list and the cover-up were answered, but it wasn’t perfectly clear how that was related to a certain politician. The last-minute twist about the identity of the real “big bad” felt forced and unnecessary. Nevertheless, “Red,” directed by Robert Schwentke, was highly enjoyable because it had a balance of suspense, action, comedy, and wit. Similar movies with a younger cast fall on the wayside because the actors either lacked chemistry or the filmmmakers attempted to do too much. Those movies could learn a thing or two from here.