Why R.I.P.D. Bombed! How NOT to Make a Comic Book Movie
Dark Horse adaptation R.I.P.D. was a movie that should have been all about fun, but was more of a flop with a few laughs that are mostly forgettable. Read on for my thoughts on why I feel it failed both critically and commercially.
At the time of writing this piece we are exactly one month post R.I.P.D's US release and subsequent bombing at the box office. The film had a budget of roughly $130 million and it has yet to gross over $33 Million here in the states (less then $60 Million globally, though it hasn't yet, as of writing this article, opened in the UK).
When I use the term "bombed" I am not just referring to the film's financial success, I also refer to its success as a piece of cinema in general. I take that stance after watching the film twice. Once, to generally enjoy the film for what it is. A 2nd, to break it down as a study piece in film making. I mostly work on independent projects, and for the most part, I work with production companies hired to make pilots for other networks. Yet, I look at every film as a learning piece of, "how to's" and "not to's", in filmmaking and storytelling.
I accept it's exceedingly difficult to breakdown a film and not see a variety of outside themes and inspirations. However, there is a direct set of guidelines some filmmakers are using, unfortunately, these days they somehow believe those guidelines give them a great moneymaker. This movie is almost literally a haphazardly-brainfarted and misstep-caused-falling-down-of-the-stairs compiling of; Constantine, MIB, Lethal Weapon, and every typical aspect of Ryan Reynolds Van Wilder character persona (as are most of his films) rolled into one (seemingly) coherent comic book movie. Using visual styles and action scenes typical of the Van Hellsing flick (that didn't work in that movie), trying to pass it off as an epic showing, seemingly as an attempt to recreate the feelings of "awe" audiences felt at the end of the Ghostbuter's film in the theaters.
On the generic surface, Constantine & MIB, happily marry into the premise of this film. A Dead guy comes back to life, dealing with evil hiding in human form, hunting said evil, some of whom are allowed to remain (like informants). Using a secret society that operates in the real world under various guises, using interestingly strange weapons technology, following orders from one authority. Of course, in this situation we have a variation of the "Agent J" from MIB in Roy's persona...just not the same authority is commanded by the character, which gives us no anchor to lean on in the story. I can almost throw in some concepts from The Adjustment Bureau that were likely minor inspirations throughout, in terms of how orders are carried out.
When you factor in the abhorrence the two main characters have for each other while working together, to flip this concept on its ear randomly and both men arrive on even ground, then mutual admiration, after having such a heavily unwanted partnership; is the very definition of the "Buddy Cop" film theme. This theme, made extremely popular by films like Lethal Weapon, and 48 Hours, is abused in this film. Roy's character takes on a very specific trait from 48 hours, as he is constantly abused by Nick, in similar fashion to Eddie Murphy with Nick Nolte.
Ryan Reynolds, in my mind, is a very capable actor in certain situations, and themes. However, he has pretty much become like the one dimensional actors we see in a variety of films, (like) Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, and Adam Sandler...What's interesting to me - I still like all of these actors, despite that fact, but I do accept that we are getting a lot of the "same" from all of them.
The basic story from the comic is here, if you haven't seen R.I.P.D. the movie, check it out for yourself. Actually, read this comic first - you can pick up the issues digitally from Dark Horse Comics. If nothing else, we (movie-goers) get a great representation of Roy by Jeff Bridges...Who was great in the role, however, I think he simply kept the look he was already using for the film Seventh Son. This might have just been dumb luck in terms of both films being worked on in tandem... Right down to the (slightly) odd accent and vocal profile he used to bring the character in Seventh Son to life.
I'm not sure if Ryan Reynolds was the best choice for Nick. I might be crazy, but perhaps Johnny Depp would have fit the character better (sans his Jack Sparrow mannerisms), possibly even Colin Farrell. While Bridges is probably the best part of this film, and fit his character perfectly, I wonder if Josh Brolin, or Bryan Cranston could have brought the character to life in a way that would have attracted a heavier audience. I would have also taken the creative license to make this film much darker, dirtier, more vicious, and stretched the limit of the PG-13 rating... Not kept it a full buddy-cop comedy with comic book blood in its DNA. At the very least, i'd give it more of a dark-comedy edge.
This felt like a PG movie for 12 year-old children. With a budget of $130 Million I think the special effects were lackluster, and unpolished. Kevin Bacon, was a bit underwhelming in the film (for me), and clearly this is a paycheck for him. There is nothing wrong with that, and I think he did well with what he had, (in the end) his character was just not that exciting. I'd rather have watched Jason Lee's Azrael from Dogma as the antagonist in this film. Which makes me wonder... what if Kevin Smith would have penned this film? I think perhaps his focus would have been on the villains. I think he would have made them darker, with a nastier sense of humor, playing off Bacon's bad boy side.
To all of you reading, I can sometimes define an amazing film simply by how amazing the antagonist is played. A strange and awkwardly fitting example to attest this fact is, Masters of the Universe (1987)... Which SUCKED! I'm sorry if I just pissed in your cornflakes, kicked your puppy, or raped your childhood - do you know why it doesn't matter, If I just hurt your feelings? Because I too watch Masters of the Universe, uncontrollably, if it's on cable (So don't fret)...Regardless, Frank Langella was AMAZING. Why did I use that example, who knows, it is what my mind wandered to when pondering that comment. Without Langella, Masters of the Universe would've (likely) have been unwatchable, and that can be said about a lot of films...
The bulk of the cast in R.I.P.D. did their part, and this isn't a film with oscar expectations, but overall it was just plain. Mary Louise Parker was also a bit odd, to be honest, but she is cute in a random and ageless sort of way. If you are not at all familiar with the comic but have young teens you want to take to watch something relatively cheesy. This is an ok entry into the fray, especially if these pre/young teens understand good vs evil, the general facts of life, death, good cop, bad cop...Sure, why not? This can't damage them anymore, in comparison to staying home, killing and stealing money from hookers while GTA anyway. There were parents in the 90's who were fans of Batman that took their unwitting children to the horror that was Batman and Robin, and they turned out fine, your kids may like this film much more than you will anyway.
In the end this movie isn't really that bad. It's just not on par with the spectacle we are seeing in comic book films - Even the Ghost rider films were epic, regardless how awful they were. So give it a look and see for yourself, Otherwise, just wait for it to (undoubtedly) hit Netflix.
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