Any and all thought involved in RIPD ended with the title, a vaguely clever concept that someone parleyed into a Dark Horse comic somewhere along the line. Universal snapped it up with the intention of… well frankly, of knocking out a derivative Men in Black clone in hopes of sneaking a few bucks from the unwary. Early buzz has been truly awful, which may help explain why the studio delayed its press screening until the last possible moment. They should have tried harder to keep us away.
Movies of this ilk hide behind the premise of unpretentious entertainment. But even the fluffiest popcorn fun needs an invested voice behind it all. We need a story with some energy in it, characters who we want to follow, or an idea that we could really dig. None of that entered into the filmmakers’ heads at any single point here. Instead, they hastily redress the MIB concept to involve ghosts instead of aliens, then set it loose with some middling effects and a slumming pair of stars to convince us that it won’t be so bad.
The basic concept is this: sometimes, the souls of the dead slip back to Earth and hide among us mortals, unwilling to face their final judgment. The RIPD exists to hunt them down and send them on: a collection deceased cops armed with magic ghost-killing guns to bring down their prey. We’re introduced to the whole shebang through the eyes of Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds), a bent but decent Boston cop assigned to the squad as a way of paying off his sins. He’s issued a standard crotchety old coot as a partner, former Western lawman Roy Pulsifer (Jeff Bridges) who heads back to the streets to show him the ropes.
The storyline pops out the clichés with a regularity you can set you watch by. Set-up, exposition, unexpected twist, more exposition, big climax, the end. Its predictability would be forgivable if it honestly gave a shit about engaging us, but rarely has the phrase “going through the motions” felt more fitting. Bridges seems to be enjoying himself, but mostly because the role lets him deliver a third-tier curtain call for his Rooster Cogburn routine. The rest of the cast – including Kevin Bacon and Mary-Louise Parker as the boys’ tart boss – likely signed up to work with him. At no point do they show any signs of humanity, any engagement in the scenario or any need to invest us in the outcome. They’re just actors repeating lines: resolutely competent because they’re all pretty talented, but otherwise uninterested in anything but getting home ahead of traffic.
The rest of the film sticks glumly to formula while peppering us with money shots that fail to amaze and one-liners that fail to amuse. An occasional chuckle escapes once in a while, but most of our energy is spent marveling at how cheap this supposedly high-end film looks. Jokes that sounded good on paper – like giving Bridges the mortal body of swimsuit model Marisa Miller – fall as flat as an open soda can onscreen, leaving wide patches of dead air struggling for traction. The movie’s universe feels equally shoddy, with rules developed more to close up any possible logic holes than to develop or expand the mildly intriguing concept. Every time RIPD has a chance to show some originality, it refrains. Every time it tries to elevate its game, it sinks deeper into the bog.
We’re left with the kind of inept effort that makes you wonder if anyone in Hollywood even likes the medium they spend so much time and money perpetuating. The cast can be forgiven if not excused – their laid-back charm is the only thing between us and total disaster. The rest of RIPD is truly soulless, and if we don’t outright hate it, it’s only because it fails to generate sufficient cause for such passion. That would mean caring about what happens on screen. The filmmakers clearly didn’t, so why should we?