Sheesh. I need to sit myself down and have a long chat with myself about the ways I spend my time. Teh intarwebz had already spoken and declared RIPD to be the Living Dead That Should Be Returned to Sender. I went anyway, hoping that this would be the elusive great white whale of suck which would give me something to harpoon properly. What the hell is wrong with me? I'm deliberately going to terrible movies so that I can waste time watching them and then more time writing about them? This is what I'm doing with my life?
I'd love to riff off from this and say that RIPD made me think about mortality and how lives are wasted, but any pile of crap could have done that; it's not as though its themes of life after death mobilised any extra brain cells.
Thing is, I was kind of hoping teh intarwebz were wrong; I was making an each way bet where if the movie turned out to be fun, I'd have some fun, and if it was terrible, at least I'd get a mean blog post out of it. I felt like a canny hedge fund manager; I still feel like a hedge fund manager, but not the good, rich kind. RIPD is some kind of piece of work. It's not much fun, but it's not wrong on a grand enough scale to be worth hyperbole.
The reviewers have been swift to dismiss this as tepid remake of Men in Black, which is unfair to remakes, tepidity, and probably both the comic books which got pulped to make the movies in question. A remake of Men in Black is a completely unnecessary thing (as two sequels demonstrated) but if they'd at least done a shot by shot homage, they might have made a fun movie by accident. As Lloyd Bentsen might have said if he'd been a remedial blogger rather than a vice-presidential candidate, I knew Men in Black, and you're no MiB. Actually, I'm being unfair to Dan Quayle, who was a better remake of JFK than RIPD is of anything. That's how not-good RIPD is. It's not even a tolerable remake.
What it is is one of those standard brand hero's journey snorathons in which a flawed character has to seek redemption, gain the love of a fair lady, earn the respect of a new peer group and save the world. Always with the saving the world. How many times do I have to say this; give us a strong character and a good actor, and we'll be on the edge of our seats watching him trying to save a kitten (pop culture test case; go watch the classic ER episode Hell or High Water. Two guys and a storm drain, and it was a tv show; you knew George Clooney was going to make it. Still riveting. I tried watching ER after that, and it could never live up to that intro for me). Added snore components; every goddam thing in the world is connected back to our blank everyman hero; the big villain for the whole world is also the small villain of his tiny pre-mortem world. Fafuqzake. This makes White House Down look inventive.
I know, let's just rip it right the way down. Ryan Reynolds is the hero, if that's the word I want to use, which it isn't. We meet him burying a bunch of shaky looking lumps of gold under an orange tree in his back garden in Boston. Yeah, no way that's not going to turn out important later. Then he has some PG13 sexy times with his French wife (because why the hell not, and why the hell should we bother explaining it?). He finally gets out from under the sexy times and goes to work. His wife goes off to - hell if I know, really; chick's a total plot coupon; she jogs off with an iPod on her arm and the next time we see her she's at Ryan's funeral, which comes about as a result of him being murdered to bits by his crooked partner because of the whole burying the gold thing. I bet you didn't know Boston had a major meth problem, but it turns out that it does, and the best plan Boston's finest can come up with to contain it is to launch an enormous raid on a vast isolated derelict warehouse absolutely full of meth dealers. Without taking even three minutes to recce the place, they all just barrel in, dick first into the beehive. I was starting to see how Boston would have a meth problem; the finest minds they've got could lose at tictactoe playing against Leeroy Jenkins. They seemed perfectly capable of having an out-of-control gummy bear problem.
So Ryan Reynolds get killed by his crooked partner, though if I'd been his crooked partner and some kind of evil mastermind, I'd have just sat back and let natural selection work its magic; Ryan's a stone bonehead, and everyone else was letting him decide what to do, so how long would it have taken? Everything freezes, and he gets whisked up through a whole bunch of CGI clouds before getting whisked into an Eames chair and the moment which gave trailer watchers some reason to hope; Mary-Louise Parker's deadpan "Tough day." Turns out heaven has a police force, and they're hiring. Ryan gets a choice between going straight to hell (what with being a dirty cop who didn't quite get the chance to un-dirty himself, though he was trying, kind of, right up to when his partner shot him so much) or hiring on as heaven police. God, heaven police are even dumber than Boston PD. They've got a file on Ryan two inches thick (it's waved out of the screen in 3D at one point, like I don't see enough files in my day). They know he's both thick and crooked, and he's just what they need? Christ, I thought reality was badly run.
So that's the RIPD, hiring the crooked and inept to chase down the dead who won't stay dead. I actually liked the business case; on the one hand, the afterlife just can't handle the volume any more, so dead souls are slipping between the cracks, and on the other hand, dead souls hanging round after their time rot out the world around them; man, that explains so much of life, including bad cell phone reception.
This is the point where the movie takes its big hit for trying to be MiB all over again. You got your noob, and you've got your old school mentor, and you've got weird abominations trying to hide in plain sight and then all hulking out into eldritch atrocity while being shot at with stupidly big guns. I hope that didn't sound fun, because it turns out that it's not. Which is perversely impressive. Although most of the money went on special effects, they had just enough money to hire Jeff Bridges (who will do anything I guess), Mary Louise Parker and Kevin Bacon. And T-Bag from Prison Break. And a ton of extras for the crowd scenes. And Ryan Reynolds, as I mentioned earlier. I'm listing them in order of the fun they are. Notice how I didn't list a writer. I'm going with the idea that they gave the key grip a crayon and a copy of Contour (Follow, the link, I dare you. They BOAST that it reduces screenwriting to a fill-in-the-blanks approach. Then movies like this fill the blanks WITH blanks).
Wackiness ensues. The RIPD come back in new guises, which for maximum yucks involves Ryan being a tiny Chinese person and Jeff being some wanton blonde hottie (Jeff gets a few lines to slap down casual sexism from all the people who ogle the hell out of him, and everyone just gets right on with dissing elderly small Chinese guys because, screw Chinese people, I guess). And of course Ryan, first day on the job, figures out that there's something weird happening with the dead-os collecting gold, which must be connected to the gold he helped himself to - and what do you know, hey presto, his crooked partner (Kevin Bacon, phoning it in and still effortlessly outshining Ryan) is the mastermind of a whole undead plot to reassemble some ancient doohickey which will open the gates of hell (though for some reason that exact phrase never comes up) and let all the damned souls of eternity return to earth.
Apparently this is a bad thing, though by this stage I was rooting for Bacon and seeing him as an undead Moses trying to free his people. No worries; Ryan and Jeff save the day (despite - how could I have forgotten to mention this - having been suspended half way through the movie) and the vast flood of souls stops at the last minute and gets hoovered back up to hell, which is above us. Don't ask. So there's just the property damage and the three or four thousand deaths from flattening thirty buildings in downtown Boston during business hours. Just a hair-mussing, really. Carry on.
And Ryan's wife gets in on the end of the world, because - for no reason at all - Kevin Bacon decides to use her blood to power his engine of destruction. So she gets almost killed just enough that she can have a tearful reunion with Ryan, but then gets better. Which is sugary, but actually less icky with where I thought they were going, a place where a woman can only be happy if she's horribly murdered to get back together with her creep husband. Which would have been an objectively bad message to send, assuming anyone stayed awake long enough to be influenced by it.
Yet, I wanted to like this dog. A) Jeff Bridges. B) Mary Louise Parker C) afterlife hi-jinks. Jeff Bridges doing a comedy cowboy just left me thinking of True Grit. Mary Louise Parker left me thinking of Red and Red 2, and all the good stuff she's done on TV, like Weeds (yes, frequently terrible, but she was always interesting). And after-life hi-jinks:
For better after-life is bureaucracy by other means: Beetlejuice
For better hunting down the dead because they're just plain bad;
Brimstone; where to start? If I don't have you at Crispin Glover as the Devil, you're beyond saving.
G vs E; completely nuts, and probably objectively no good at all, but a show about Good vs Evil with the production values - and general tone - of a 70s cop show? What's not to like? Plus Marshall Bell as the watch commander, leaving you permanently wondering just how good the forces of good really were
(in a month you'll be able to get RIPD on Blu-Ray and you still can't get either of these shows anywhere…)
For bureaucracy and hunting down souls on general principle Dead Like Me; Mandy Patinkin and more sarcasm than TV had ever seen before. Huge fun.