FrightFest 2013: R.I.P.D. 3D

Anton Bitel,

German-born director Robert Schwentke, whose career began with the genuinely unnerving psychothriller Tattoo (2002), has since answered America's call, helming Flightplan (2005), The Time Traveller's Wife (2009) and RED (2010). Yet with his latest, R.I.P.D., he has become fully naturalised in Hollywood's land of the dead - and sadly, one suspects, there will be no going back.

1 The 'Rest In Peace Department' is a purgatorial police force tasked with ensuring that the wrong-doing dead (known, with extraordinary inventiveness, as Deados) face judgment rather than hide out on Earth in human guise. The members of the R.I.P.D. - late law enforcers unable, for past corruption, to ascend to the heavens - all come with their own avatar, representing the way they look to living observers. So it is that the cantankerous old cowboy Marshall Roy Polsifer (Jeff Bridges) appears as a blonde hottie (Marisa Miller), while his gun-toting rookie partner Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds) looks to all the world like an elderly Chinese gentleman (James Hong) armed with a banana. As these buddy cops look as mismatched in their 'real' forms as in their avatars, hilarity is clearly intended to ensue.

It doesn't. For R.I.P.D. is like the ghost of a real movie - a comedy that is not funny, a high-concept plot that cannot stop trafficking in soulless cliché, an astonishingly talented cast stuck with one-dimensional characters, an effects-based behemoth lumbered with ropey CGI resembling the state of the art from 15 years ago, and a mad dash to save the world that merely goes through the motions with little sense of tension or jeopardy (the undead agents are essentially unkillable). Story arcs involving Nick learning to let go of his (recently widowed) wife Julia (Stephanie Szostak) fall flat because we never engage emotionally with these characters, and because death seems less tinged with loss when the afterlife is so constantly being dangled before our eyes.

Despite the odd surreal flourish, most of the material here feels like well-worn, second-generation copy, with Roy and Nick's real avatars being Tommy Lee Jones' Kay and Will Smith's Jay from Men In Black (1997), and with Mary-Louise Parker's Proctor subbing for Rip Torn's Zed. Once again, we are shown another world concealed within our own, and policed by a hidden organisation - but somewhere in the shift from aliens to ghosts, charm has fled the scene. Adapted from the comic by Peter Lenkov, R.I.P.D. is a mirthless, laugh-free plod that even the likes of Bridges and Kevin Bacon (as bland villain Bobby Hayes) cannot save from eternal damnation. The best that can be said for it is that the use of 3D space is quite good, and there is some sexualised beardplay near the end that seems loopier than any oversized spectre or city-scale apocalypse.

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