Cities in Fright

R.I.P.D.: adapted from the Peter M. Lenkov comic book by Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi, and David Dobkin; directed by Robert Schwentke; starring Jeff Bridges (Roy), Ryan Reynolds (Nick), Kevin Bacon (Hayes), Mary Louise Parker (Proctor), and Stephanie Szostak (Julia) (2013): One of 2013’s biggest box-office busts, R.I.P.D. isn’t awful — indeed, I’ve seen a lot of hits that were worst. That doesn’t mean it’s good, however.

The Rest in Peace Department (R.I.P.D., get it? ha ha!) enlists dead police officers to apprehend escaped dead criminals, or ‘Deados’ as they’re colloquially known. Newly dead Ryan Reynolds partners with 19th-century Western lawman Jeff Bridges to protect the streets of Boston. Nefarious doings are afoot, related to Reynolds’ death during a drug bust.

The movie’s premise echoes previous entries in the dead-cop subgenre that include the TV shows Reaper, Brimstone, and G. Vs. E. (all of which are a lot better than this movie, by the way). But it’s most closely modelled on Men in Black, with a third act right out of Ghostbusters.

There are some clever flourishes throughout — weird little bits and strange production design. Jeff Bridges is the most interesting thing in the movie, as he so often is. The peculiar speech pattern of his lawman seems so specific and odd that it seems like a private joke. I have the feeling he had to keep himself interested amidst all the green-screen work and rote police shenanigans. Lightly recommended.

Godzilla: written by Max Borenstein and Dave Callaham, based on the Toho Studios character; directed by Gareth Edwards; starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Ford Brody), Ken Watanabe (Dr. Serizawa), Bryan Cranston (Joe Brody) and Elizabeth Olsen (Elle Brody) (2014): The newest version of Godzilla begins in murky menace and ends in metropolitan mayhem. I enjoyed it a lot, despite the Spielbergian family stuff that every blockbuster now seems required to carry around. Does every hero have a family he wants to get home to? Must he? Must she? Must they?

The first 40 minutes play like a horror movie. Indeed, they play a lot like director Gareth Edwards’ only previous directorial effort, Monsters, which was that rarest of rare birds, an Indy giant-monster movie, and a pretty good one. Edwards did all the visual effects for that one at home on his computer over the course of a couple of years. Here, he’s got a much bigger budget to work with, and much bigger commercial expectations to satisfy. Hence the Hollywood 101 family quest.

The acting is mostly fine, with nice turns from Kickass Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the narrative focalizer (ha ha!) and Ken Watanabe as a New-Agey Japanese scientist who apparently has a Ph.D. in Monster Studies. The monster work gives us the currently de rigeur gray behemoth look. I prefer my Godzilla bright-green, thank you.

But anyway, much monster mayhem ensues. The movie balances scenes of civic destruction with a few set-pieces filled with dread and the Sublime. The best of these set-pieces, a high-altitude paratrooper drop into the middle of a monster-devastated San Francisco, manages a feeling of cyclopean, Lovecraftian Sublime horror that one sees very rarely in movies of any era. It’s a show-stopper. Recommended.

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