July 07, 2014


Sometimes a by-the-numbers bubble-gum flick can be too derivative even for me. R.I.P.D. ("Rest in Peace Department") had all the right ingredients for a satisfying serving of the same-only-different fast food but didn't contain a speck of anything actually different.

The beginning is a total rip-off of Men in Black. The ending is a total rip-off of Avengers. The middle is half a rip-off of Constantine (and a reminder of how good Keanue Reeves is in parts like that) and half a rip-off of the far funnier and more imaginative Reaper.

Considering all the obvious MIB references, they should have pulled out all the stops. The genre could certainly use a Spaceballs-style parody. But the script could never commits to that course. Or any other.

Jeff Bridges tries to be a country-western version of Tommy Lee Jones in MIB and now and then succeeds by devouring all the scenery. Ryan Reynolds as his sidekick is so hopelessly generic that you could swap him out for any 30-something male television lead and never notice.

It doesn't help that Kevin Bacon isn't the slightest bit scary as the bad guy demon. Given the lame material he has to work with, that's mostly not his fault. This movie relies entirely on the "evil is ugly" equation. Despite wearing globs of latex, Kevin Bacon doesn't look very ugly.

I'm also getting quite tired of superheros and supervillains systematically trashing every metropolitan area on the planet (this week: Boston). It all looks like stock footage by now. (Man of Steel bored me silly for exactly this reason.)

Nevertheless, I might have managed to overlook many of these failings were it not for the egregious narrative errors, starting with a first scene plucked from the middle of the movie and then snapping back to the actual beginning.

I hate, hate, hate that device. Even worse, the script then proceeded to spell everything out like an Ikea instruction manual. So much for mystery. So much for wonder.

Before he got so full of his own style, M. Night Shyamalan did it right in The Sixth Sense, giving nothing away before he had to. I figured out the big plot twist early on. Still, I hugely appreciated it not being spelled out and handed to me on a silver platter.

A lot of otherwise watchable B-grade actioners are ruined by this incessant need to explain every bit of backstory like the job history on a resume.

Cut 90 percent of the special effects, give Jeff Bridges more than the scenery to chew on, and R.I.P.D. might have added up to a fun, even filling, flick. Alas, it's one of those coulda-woulda-shoulda movies that doesn't deliver on anything but a big, boring special effects budget.

Which reminds me, Constantine is coming to NBC this fall as a drama series, with Welsh actor Matt Ryan as John Constantine (though politically correctness hilariously dictates that his character can't smoke). How different will it be from Reaper and Supernatural?

I loved the movie, so I'm looking forward to finding out. I just hope they hire writers (editors or consultants) who know enough about Christian eschatology to suspend my disbelief.

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