R.I.P.D.


Gunfight at the OK Corral

Gunfight at the OK Corral

(2013) Supernatural Comedy (Universal) Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Bacon, Mary-Louise Parker, Stephanie Szostak, Robert Knepper, James Hong, Marisa Miller, Mike O’Malley, Devin Ratray, Larry Joe Campbell, Michael Coons, Christina Everett, Michael Tow, Lonnie Farmer, Piper Mackenzie Harris, Ben Sloane, Catherine Kresge. Directed by Robert Schwentke

Just because we’re dead doesn’t mean there aren’t any rules. When you die, you depart this mortal coil and drift skyward into the next realm where you will be judged and your final destination assigned. A lucky – or unlucky, depending on how you look at it – few are yanked out of line because they have certain skills. They become part of an elite law-keeping force – the Rest in Peace Department.

Nick Walker (Reynolds) is a Boston cop and up until now, a good one. He and his partner Bobby Hayes (Bacon) stumbled onto some gold during a routine drug bust and now are keeping the stuff out of evidence. Nick, who wants to build a better life for his wife Julia (Szostak), is having second thoughts however. He just can’t bring himself to be a dirty cop. Bobby has no problem with it however and just to show Nick what a good sport he is about it he shoots him in the face.

Nick’s trip to judgment is interrupted (as you might guess from the first paragraph) and is yanked into a sterile-looking office where a bored-looking functionary named Proctor (Parker) basically tells him what’s what and offers Nick a 100-year contract with the R.I.P.D. Or, of course, he can go ahead and face judgment.

Nick isn’t quite ready for that so he accepts and is assigned to Raycephus Pulsipher (Bridges), better known as Ray – a cantankerous Wild West sort that would have been played (or at least voiced) by Slim Pickens a few decades back. Ray’s none too happy about having a partner – particularly a green-behind-the ears (literally) rookie. However, he shows him the ropes albeit reluctantly.

The job of the R.I.P.D. is to locate souls who had somehow stayed on Earth after death and bring ’em back for judgment. Apparently earth and death don’t mix and the souls begin to rot, developing a stank (as Roy puts it) that can be noticed by electronic glitches, unusual amounts of rust, rot, mildew and dead plants and of course human-looking people who when confronted with cumin suddenly transform into fleshy, putrescent masses of rot that have superhuman strength, can bound about like a kangaroo on steroids and generally wreak havoc. These rotting souls, which are called Deados, need to be kept from human attention in order to keep the universe in balance. Oh, and R.I.P.D. officers on Earth don’t look like their earthly selves; Nick appears to be an elderly Asian man (Hong) and Roy a smoking hot underwear model (Miller, who happens to be a smoking hot underwear model).

In a case of cosmic serendipity that only a Hollywood screenwriter could hatch, Nick’s first case involves a Deado named Stanley Nawlicki (Knepper) who – wonder of wonders! – has pieces of gold just like the ones Nick was keeping. That leads him to investigate his old partner who he still has some unfinished business with which leads to a conspiracy to turn the one-way portal to the afterlife into a two-way street using an ancient artifact (there are always ancient artifacts in these stories) called the Staff of Jericho which if activated will literally create Hell on Earth as the Dead overwhelm the living. Or it could just be this week’s episode of The Walking Dead.

Based on the 2001 Dark Horse comic of the same name, R.I.P.D. has a clever title and a not-bad premise to work with. Schwentke provides some pretty cool visuals, from the Men in Black-esque headquarters to the Ghostbusters-esque monsters. But therein is the rub – the visuals, while cool in and of themselves, remind you of something else. I don’t have a problem with borrowing – even borrowing liberally – from other visual looks but I don’t recall anything in the movie that looked especially unique.

Reynolds has gotten a lot of flack lately for his appearances in subpar movies (much as Ben Affleck did a few years back) which I think is patently unfair – Reynolds is charming and appealing but his character doesn’t really play to those strengths. Here he’s kind of grim and obsessive and that really isn’t his forte; when Reynolds is at his best he’s a bit of a smartass, like his work as Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (and when is his Deadpool movie coming out 20th Century Fox executives? We’re waiting!). Had his role been a lot lighter, the movie would have been better. Instead, he’s essentially a straight man for Jeff Bridges.

And there’s no shame in that. Bridges is a terrific actor and he hams it up here for all its worth, which is considerable. He goes on and on about having a coyote gnaw on his bones after his demise which gets a bit tiresome but then his character is supposed to be tiresome. Kevin Bacon knows how to be a smooth, vicious baddie and he pulls it off here.

The worst crime this movie commits though is a lack of energy. There’s no sense of fun here, like the cast and crew were performing a chore rather than having a good time. This is the kind of movie that should be made with a twinkle in the eye and a sly wink to the audience but you don’t get that sense here. The elements are all there for a really good summer movie but the whole doesn’t add up to the sum of its parts. It’s not as bad as the critics say it is – but it isn’t as good as it could have been either.

REASONS TO GO: Clever premise. Bacon and Bridges do some fine work.

REASONS TO STAY: Feels flat. Derivative.

FAMILY VALUES:  A lot of violence, much of it of the Looney Tunes variety. Some sexuality and a bit of language (including some suggestive dialogue).

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This marks the fourth film based on a comic book that Ryan Reynolds has appeared in to date.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/29/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 12% positive reviews. Metacritic: 25/100; the reviews were dreadful, coming as a surprise to no one.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Beetlejuice

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Fruitvale Station

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Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian


Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

Ben Stiller and Amy Adams learn that seven bobbleheads are better than one.

(20th Century Fox) Ben Stiller, Amy Adams, Hank Azaria, Owen Wilson, Robin Williams, Steve Coogan, Christopher Guest, Bill Hader, Alain Chabat, Jonah Hill, Ricky Gervais, Jon Bernthal, Mizuo Peck, Jake Cherry, Rami Malek, Jay Baruchel. Directed by Shawn Levy.

Anyone can tell you that there is a little bit of magic in a museum. Not only are they repositories of human knowledge and culture, they are also objects of awe and inspiration. There’s quite a lot of juju in those things.

It is two years after the events of Night at the Museum in which an Egyptian tablet brings the statues and inhabitants of the New York Museum of Natural History to life once the sun goes down. Night security guard Larry Daley (Stiller) has moved on from his gig as a night watchman at the museum, becoming the CEO of his own company which markets his own inventions including the latest, the glow-in-the-dark flashlight. He has become a busy man, meeting with Wal-Mart executives and filming infomercials with George Foreman. However, he tries to make time to see his friends in the museum, including Teddy Roosevelt (Williams), Jedediah (Wilson) and Octavius (Coogan).

This night he is informed by unctuous museum director Dr. McPhee (Gervais) that the board of trustees has elected to go a more high-tech route, with holographic exhibits that are much more cost-effective. The mannequins, stuffed animals and statuary have been donated to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington and will reside in their archives as American treasures. Only a few items – the canine T-Rex skeleton, the Easter Island statues and Roosevelt – will remain in New York.

Unfortunately Dexter, the high-strung Capuchin monkey that tormented Larry in the first movie has managed to snag that magic tablet. The night after the move takes place, Larry gets an alarming phone call from Jedediah (how he got access to a phone is anybody’s guess) indicating there is a pharaoh who is after the tablet and the outnumbered refugees from New York are under siege.

Larry gets on a plane immediately and heads to the nation’s capital. From there he heads into the bowels of the Smithsonian using a pilfered card from Brendan (Hill) – pronounced “Brun-dun” – a somewhat inexperienced Smithsonian guard, and meets up with Amelia Earhart (Adams), who becomes an instant ally.

The pharaoh in question, Kahmunrah (Azaria), is the brother of Ahkmenrah (Malek) from the first movie, and he has a chip on his shoulder. He also plans on using the tablet to summon an army of demons to initiate his rule on earth. There is nobody but Larry, Amelia and his friends from the New York museum who stand in the way of Kahmunrah and his nefarious plan.

Those who loved the first movie won’t be disappointed here. Generally, the things that made the movie delightful are here, only amplified. Unfortunately, the first movie’s flaws are also here, only amplified. Let’s start with the good stuff. Stiller’s Larry, to the credit of the filmmakers, is no longer the milquetoast that made him so annoying in the first movie. He’s matured, grown some self-confidence and found success. He makes a better hero in this movie and is given a great foil in Adams. She’s probably my favorite actress working today – I can’t think of another actress besides Julia Roberts whose mere presence in a movie is reason enough for me to see it. Ever since she first attracted notice in Junebug she hasn’t given a poor performance yet, and has proven she can carry a movie in Enchanted. While she’s not required to do that here, she essentially does it anyway. She’s the focus of every scene she’s in, at least from my point of view.

The supporting cast is pretty awesome as well. Azaria makes a superb comic villain, whose lisping delivery is a bit of homage to Boris Karloff in The Mummy. He’s completely believable and menacing enough without being too over-the-top, comic enough without being a buffoon. Coogan and Wilson make a good team and Hill’s uncredited cameo is one of the movie’s highlights. Williams is far less visible in the movie, but makes an impact whenever he’s around.

One of my big peeves with the movie is that it isn’t true to its own canon. In the first film, items brought to life that were left outside the museum after dawn turned to dust but that doesn’t happen here. Also, while the Smithsonian is crawling with security guards and riddled with surveillance cameras during the day, it seems devoid of any kind of security once darkness falls. Considering the value of the artifacts stored in their museums, you’d think that there’d be a guard or two on duty once the doors close.

Still, gripes aside, this is a fairly good family adventure movie. There’s the comedy you’d expect given the cast as well as action a-plenty. The young ‘uns in our audience seemed well-pleased with the movie and I have no reason to suspect that most family audiences won’t find it otherwise.

WHY RENT THIS: A likable cast and premise make this movie all kinds of fun. The things that made the first movie work are still here, only amplified. Amy Adams is always worth seeing no matter what the role; she nearly steals the film here.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some lazy script choices give the movie a few unnecessary plot holes which admittedly the movie’s target audience will be young enough to overlook.

FAMILY VALUES: Kahmunrah’s demon army might be a bit frightening for the younger set but they aren’t really all that menacing. Otherwise, this is suitable for most family audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Writers Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lemmon make cameos as the Wright Brothers.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There are several featurettes and a DVD game centered around the Capuchin monkeys.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Blind Side