Dir. Robert Schwentke
The basic plot line of RIPD is quite simple. A happily married police officer, Nick Walker (played by Ryan Reynolds), is killed in action. He is thus recruited by the ‘Rest in Peace Department’, an organisation dedicated to returning the dead to purgatory. The audience is never offered a concrete explanation about how these deceased souls have managed to avoid crossing over. The only explanation is a short sentence is about how ‘the system doesn’t always work’. This short-shrifting of major points becomes characteristic of the entire film.
Initially Nick is in a moment of moral weakness: he has just stolen valuable crime scene evidence with the intention of selling it. The viewer develops some sympathy for him as the film progresses; observing encounters with his wife and the betrayal of a friend. Yet this initial sin is never amended. He even defends himself when asked about it. The creation of this basic mistrust prevents him from stepping into the hero role, which he so desperately attempts to fulfil.
Miraculously, every single other character seems to fit a cliché. Roy Pulsipher (played by Jeff Bridges) is Nick’s RIPD partner. He is the department’s oldest and most experienced officer and reveals himself as the ‘I work alone’ type, though he derives so much enjoyment from teasing Nick, one wonders why he preferred working alone in the first place. In a normal context, Bridges would be severely overacting. Yet because the film itself is essentially ridiculous, we almost fail to notice it. His continual irritating commentary is eventually accepted as necessary for the film’s ‘comedy’ designation. Nick’s wife, Julia (played by Stephanie Szostak) is beautiful and sweet. However she seems more of a prop than a character, having no legitimate personality or identity outside of her marriage. Hayes (played by Kevin Bacon), Nick’s former partner and the film’s central villain is likewise one dimensional. He expresses absolutely no remorse for the multiple murders he commits; further he has no real motive for attempting to destroy the world.
The central failure of RIPD is its inability to be realistic. One does not mind suspending one’s disbelief to enjoy monster movies and the like. However, in scenes of universally simple human encounters, one expects and desires realism. And that can’t be found through RIPD‘s melodramatic over-acting and trite dialogue.
The film toys with deeply serious and emotional subject matter whilst attempting to be a comedy, and in doing so it doesn’t seem to treat issues of life and death with the weight and respect they deserve. This uncomfortable proximity of endless bad jokes and bitter death is enough to severely disorient the viewer. Even if the film did offer some kind of profound message, it would certainly be hidden by this overwhelmingly unsuccessful juxtaposition.