R.I.P.D. (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 36 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Violence, Sci-Fi/Fantasy Action, some Sensuality, and Language including Sex References

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Directed by: Robert Schwentke

Written by: Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi

(based on the comic books by Peter M. Lenkov)

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Bacon, Mary-Louise Parker, Stephanie Szostak, James Hong & Marisa Miller

As I write this, R.I.P.D. has already become the fifth biggest box office bomb of all-time. For a movie financed on a budget of over 100 million, it certainly doesn’t show in the film itself. This comic book adaptation is either trying to channel a new GHOSTBUSTERS for a new generation or (more obviously) completely ripping off MEN IN BLACK with a supernatural twist. The biggest complement I give R.I.P.D. is that the ultra-quick pacing rushes through the entire film (kind of how I, FRANKENSTEIN seemed in a hurry to get the plot over and done with). I found one running joke to be funny, but everything else falls flat on its face. It almost seems like the production was halted halfway through completion and the result was still released as a finished film. If the poor script is any indication though, more time dedicated to the production might have churned a movie that’s even worse than this cut already is.

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Nick Walker (Reynolds) is a cop who has recently stolen some gold with his shady partner Bobby (Bacon). After being killed in the line of duty, Nick is sucked up into a heavenly vortex and winds up in an atypical otherworldly office. He’s given the choice of either facing judgment as a dirty cop or working off his sins by serving the Rest In Peace Department. So Nick becomes a member of the R.I.P.D. Saddled with Roy (Bridges), a deceased cowboy whose methods are radical, for partner, Nick comes across an undead conspiracy that may spell the end of mankind on Earth. It’s up to Roy and Nick, despite contradictory orders to follow simple directions, to get to the bottom of a possible apocalypse and save the day.

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For a movie set in Boston, the streets seem to be damn near deserted in every city scene. This might come off as nitpicking, until you take into account that it merely adds to a half-assed feeling that R.I.P.D. reeks of. Nobody seems to be even trying to make a good movie. Ryan Reynolds plays the straight-man role and executes it with the same comic book hero charisma that he showed off in GREEN LANTERN, which is to say none at all. Jeff Bridges can do comedy well. That’s already been seen in THE BIG LEBOWSKI. He’s just plain embarrassing here and playing the over-the-top bad-accented cowboy shtick to an aggravating level. Then there’s Kevin Bacon as an obvious antagonist (not a spoiler, since it’s given away in the first five minutes). Bacon seems to be reciting lines of cue cards whilst a check is being waved behind the camera. The man can act, but he’s sleepwalking through this role.

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The effects don’t fare any better. The Deados (evil spirits hiding on Earth) that Reynolds and Bridges hunt appear to be ripped right out of the LEFT 4 DEAD video games. These Deados bear a striking resemblance to the special-infected zombies in LEFT 4 DEAD. When looking at a hugely overweight one with a bulging neck, anyone familiar with those games will instantly be reminded of a Boomer. It’s not even as if they were designs based on those monsters, but it appears as if somebody literally took the video quality graphics and placed them within this failed blockbuster. R.I.P.D. fails at the comedic elements too. Running jokes make little to no sense and feel very forced. Deados reveal themselves around spicy food (your guess is as good as mine) and there’s a blob-like Deado (the Boomer lookalike) that makes Elvis quotes the whole time he’s on-screen. This nonsensical joke might have been funny if this film were made back in the 70’s or (even stretching it) 80’s, but it’s remarkably stale and dusty here.

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One running gag in R.I.P.D. got a couple of chuckles out of me. That would be how Reynolds and Bridges appear in the eyes of the living around them (their “avatars” are an old Chinese guy and a petite young woman). I admittedly thought that was a little clever and it’s the only saving grace that keeps this film from an F grade. Though based on a comic book series (which was also written after the Men In Black comics had been published), R.I.P.D. comes off as desperate to imitate MEN IN BLACK at every possible turn and comes off as a disastrous, painfully lazy movie. It’s appropriate that this film flopped in its theatrical run (losing more than 50 million in the process). I shudder to think that any of the people working on this film had complete faith in this project. R.I.P.D. is dead on arrival. To those who think that’s a clichéd and corny pun to end this review on, it’s about as clever as anything this movie has to offer.

Grade: D-

THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 58 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Pervasive Strong Language, Drug Content, Sexuality and Brief Violence

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Directed by: Joel Coen

Written by: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Starring: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, David Huddleston, John Turturro, Tara Reid, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Elliot, Peter Stormare, David Thewlis

THE BIG LEBOWSKI is considered to be a cult classic. Plenty of my friends love the film, one of them even has a Jesus bowling shirt. The Coen brothers are a force to be reckoned with in the filmmaking world, so there should be no reason for this film not to live up to the hype. However, it seems that people are willing to overlook some pretty big flaws. It’s far from a bad movie, but it’s also not a comedic masterpiece either. It’s hysterically funny, but it’s far from perfect.

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The Dude is a slacker just enjoying life as it comes to him, despite no ambition. His real name is Jeff Lebowski and a case of mistaken identity puts him in a situation where a kidnapped woman’s life is in his hands. Thanks to his equally idiotic hot-headed best friend, Walter, a the money drop-off doesn’t go as planned and new complications present themselves to The Dude, Walter, and their fellow slow-witted bowler friend, Donny.

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As far as characters go, THE BIG LEBOWSKI is near perfection. Jeff Bridges inhabits the robe-wearing slacker known as The Dude with a manic energy. John Goodman is hilarious. Steve Buscemi isn’t really given much to say as Donny, which is his character’s running joke. Julianne Moore is the actually the worst part of the film, as her character seemed a bit bland and uninteresting. Peter Stormare and Philip Seymour Hoffman give memorable performances as two very different side characters. Finally, John Turturro steals every second of the few scenes he’s in as the weirdo rival bowler, Jesus.

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There are plenty of laughs to be had throughout. The dialogue is clever and some of the jokes are set up way in advance. The dream sequences that The Dude has are impressive as far as the visuals are concerned. The story begins well enough and has a pretty cool set-up. There are even a couple of plot twists throughout, but some flaws detracted from my overall enjoyment of the film. There is some seriously sloppy storytelling at work here. A lot of plot elements are thrown in and then never revisited for a second. It’s not even like they existed for a single joke, it seemed like the Coens planned on coming back to some of these plot points. It never happens though and means that those scenes could have been left out of the final cut completely.

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The conclusion isn’t grand or climactic either. There is actually one fairly big event that was being built up and isn’t even shown (involving the best character in the film). The movie just sort of ends in the most anti-climactic way possible. Also, the running time feels stretched for a movie of this kind. It’s just under two hours and if it were cut by 20 or 30 minutes, with some changes to the plot, this could have easily wound up being one of the greatest comedies of all-time.

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I may be in the minority, but I felt THE BIG LEBOWSKI (though funny) was far from the comedic masterpiece that many people claim it is. There are plenty of hilarious bits and the performances are great (with the exception of Julianne Moore). It’s a rowdy fun time, but there are some big issues with the film as well. It’s good, but that’s about all it is.

Grade: B

IRON MAN (2008)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 5 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some Intense Sequences of Sci-Fi Action and Violence, and brief Suggestive Content

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Directed by: Jon Favreau

Written by: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum & Matt Holloway

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges & Gwyneth Paltrow

IRON MAN was the second turning point in modern superhero cinema (the first was Chistopher Nolan’s reboot of Batman). IRON MAN came to show that the Marvel Universe had entered the world of The Avengers. I can’t recall another time in movie history that a series of somewhat unrelated films were formed to lead up to one mega-blockbuster. It certainly doesn’t hurt that this was a good start for the series of superhero films that included many remarkable individuals and spanned across two different worlds. Taken on its own, the first IRON MAN entry is a pretty good flick.

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Tony Stark is a billionaire genius who makes his fortune off selling weapons. During a trip to Afghanistan, Tony is abducted by a group of terrorists demanding that he duplicate a weapon of mass destruction for them. What Stark actually works on is an armor-clad suit complete with attached weapons. After an explosive escape, Tony comes back home to rethink his personal responsibility in peddling tools of war. This leads to the dismay of his stock holders and faithful partner, Obadiah Stane. Using his ingenuity, Tony Stark becomes Iron Man!

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First of all, Robert Downey Jr. owns his role as Tony Stark. He makes it so it’s pretty much impossible to imagine anybody else in the role, though there might be an eventual reboot coming in a few decades. This is the kind of character that it’s difficult to separate the actor from. Robert Downey Jr. just knocks it out of the park here and winds up being the most charismatic superhero to grace the genre. Although Downey Jr. is amazing, it seems that nearly everyone else here is used as means to an end. Jeff Bridges is tragically underused. Terrence Howard is the only other one with anything resembling a real personality. Finally, Gwyneth Paltrow feels forced as the love-interest.

Jeff Bridges in "Iron Man"

Despite what Christopher Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT trilogy might have you believe, most superhero movies wind up being about the spectacle and IRON MAN nails this down perfectly! The special effects still hold five years later as stellar. The action scenes, though not as frequent as one might expect, are adrenaline-pumping too. It also makes the film even more entertaining to spot all the references to the (at-the-time upcoming) AVENGERS movie. I chuckled more than once at seeing something that would make a big comeback later on in the Marvel universe.

Robert Downey Jr. in "Iron Man"

The main problem that IRON MAN suffers from is a script that totally feels like a bit of a been-there, done-that origin story. We pretty much know how things will play out from the get-go. There is also a half-assed twist that can be guessed about 30 minutes into the film. However, even with a barely serviceable script, IRON MAN manages to stand tall as a very fun, entertaining and downright cool superhero film. It’s not fine art and there are certainly better movies in the Marvel cannon, but IRON MAN is still a solid superhero story! If you haven’t seen it yet (I can’t imagine why you haven’t), then give it a look!

Grade: B

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