Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
August 2013


Rest in peace, Ryan Reynolds Leading Man Era

Actually, it's not Reynolds' fault - 'R.I.P.D.' is blockbuster-by-committee at its most banal

Universal Pictures
Director: Robert Schwentke
Screenplay: Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, based on the comic book by Peter M. Lenkov
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges Kevin Bacon, Mary-Louise Parker, James Hong, Marissa Miller and Stephanie Szostak
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 36 minutes
July 19, 2013
(out of four)

On multiple occasions during my screening of R.I.P.D., I literally forgot what movie I was watching. Now, it's possible this was a warning sign of early-onset Alzheimer's. Or it could mean that R.I.P.D. is yet another expensive blockbuster so deeply devoid of personality and creativity that I couldn't help but mistake it for some other CGI-driven sci-fi action movie that ends with the complete destruction of a major city. It's hard to keep up these days.

The thing is, a supernatural fantasy starring Jeff Bridges as a deceased 19th Century U.S. Marshal has no right feeling so commonplace and dull. (You cannot imagine how deeply a movie has to suck for me to not even be able to enjoy a Jeff Bridges performance.) But somehow that combination results in nothing but another loud, obnoxious shoot-em-up/blow-em-up, with another run-of-the-mill villain trying to destroy the world for a reason no one could possibly care less about.

The movie is also part of the inexplicably ongoing effort to convince us that Ryan Reynolds is a movie star. He's tasked with carrying R.I.P.D. as a hesitantly crooked cop - don't worry, he feels super guilty about the gold he stole and buried in his backyard - who gets betrayed and killed by his partner (Kevin Bacon, natch) and is sent to the afterlife and assigned to the Rest in Peace Department, which seeks out dead folks still secretly (and illegally) existing among the living.

Reynolds once again shows us his non-movie-star chops, a perfectly passable but empty-calorie actor with charisma, sharp comic timing and not much else. Basically, he's a less edgy Christian Slater, and unless he's got a box-office behemoth carrying his jock (Sandra Bullock in The Proposal, Denzel Washington in Safe House), it's safe to say this leading-man thing isn't working out. (Incidentally, his best lead performances were in two tiny movies that no one saw, Buried and The Nines, so maybe his inability to make an imprint as an A-lister has as much to do with the way Hollywood tailors his persona as anything else.)

But as little as the movie understands character depth or chemistry (Reynolds and Bridges have none), it understands comedy even less. When Nick (Reynolds) is sent back to Earth for his first assignment with the R.I.P.D., he immediately seeks out his mourning wife (Stephanie Szostak), only to discover that she doesn't recognize him and can't understand what he's trying to tell her. At which point his partner Roy (Bridges) tells him about his second chance's big catch - to the living, they don't appear as their former selves. And here is the movie's big joke: Nick's new altar ego is an old Chinese man (played by comedy veteran James Hong). And as for Bridges? He appears as - get this! - supermodel Marisa Miller, decked out in a shimmering gold mini-dress, black trenchcoat and heels. This is supposed to be funny, until we think about it for two seconds and realize that for a job intended to be low-key, looking like a supermodel is completely counterintuitive. The percentage of the time it would actually help Roy has to be minuscule. It's the comedy logic of a bad beer commercial. (Now, if there were some identity issues going on with Roy, then hey, we might have had something that would have made for a more interesting movie. Alas . . .)

But nevermind - the filmmakers want to have their joke, and most certainly don't want to have to think about it*. One guy's an old Chinese man, the other guy's a pretty girl - comedy!

* Final note on this - the concept isn't even properly pulled off. Presumably, the dead can see Nick and Roy in their actual forms, and only the living see them as their aliases. Except we see shots of them from the point of view of the dead, and they appear as Miller and Hong - not Reynolds and Bridges. You know what? Screw it. I'm spending far too much time thinking about this.

The film plays out like a bad ripoff of Men in Black, complete with CGI that would make the SyFy network proud. Guided by the characteristically ordinary direction of Robert Schwentke (RED, The Time Traveler's Wife, Flightplan), R.I.P.D plays out exactly as we expect it to, lacking even the go-get-em spirit to try and surprise us. But more than anything else, seeing a movie like this is completely disheartening; it is a suggestion - even an admission - that every big-budget spectacle is expected to look and behave alike. If all movies were more like R.I.P.D., I'd have to find something better to do with my time.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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