Zack & Nick's Culture Cast

Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!

What Went Wrong?: Vol. 33 – R.I.P.D.

It’s been a banner year for Universal, as almost every film they’ve put into wide release has seen significant box office returns. Last winter’s fright film Mama, early summer’s actioner Fast 6, and mid-summer’s animated sequel Despicable Me 2 have all been big hits for the prolific film studio, with Fast 6 and Despicable Me 2 being two of the highest grossing films of the summer thus far. But like Icarus, who flew too close to the sun on wings of wax and feathers, all things must come crashing back to earth to die horribly. The studio’s unbelievable hot streak came to an ignoble end with last weekend’s release of R.I.P.D., which bombed in theaters with a paltry 12 million dollar take.


R.I.P.D. is a Dark Horse comic book adaptation starring Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges and directed by Robert Schwentke (RED, The Time Traveler’s Wife). When veteran cop Ryan Reynolds (come on, let’s just admit he plays himself over and over again) is murdered by a corrupt police officer, he teams up in the afterlife with Jeff Bridges (also pretty much playing himself at this point) as a member of the Rest In Peace Department, a sort-of FBI for the afterlife. The two must use their supernatural powers to save the world from the horrors of some nonsensical Macguffin or something. Otherwise the dead will be able to return to the earth I guess. Yeah, that sounds about right. So, what exactly went wrong?

Budgeted at a mammoth 130 million dollars, the film received almost zero studio backing in terms of advertising up until its release. I didn’t even see a trailer for the film until at least May of this year, which is highly unusual for a summer tent-pole release that cost such a significant amount of money. It was almost as if Universal had zero confidence in the film, and felt compelled to just dump it off in the midst of a super-competitive July, sandwiched amongst films like studio stablemate Despicable Me 2, RED 2, Turbo (also featuring Ryan Reynolds), and Pacific Rim (which it would have shared an audience with). Of course it didn’t help that Universal ultimately chose not to screen the film for critics. When it eventually began to accumulate reviews, R.I.P.D. scored an abysmal 10% on Rotten Tomatoes, with the kindest words reserved for Jeff Bridges’ performance.

The film of course also looks and probably feels like a much more successful series of films, Sony’s Men in Black trilogy. Obvious comparisons have been drawn between the two for quite some time, and the fact that R.I.P.D. has been in development for some odd 15 years lends credence to this theory as well, as the original Men in Black movie came out roughly 15 years ago. R.I.P.D. even features a very Men In Black-style relationship between its lead characters, with the always cocky and arrogant Ryan Reynolds playing off of the more mellow Jeff Bridges much in the same way that Will Smith played off of Tommy Lee Jones in that more successful film series. Lastly, it also seems like R.I.P.D. has had a somewhat troubled production history, considering the lengthy development time as well the several announced release dates for the film. It was also shot about a year and a half ago, indicating it has sat on a studio shelf for quite some time.

This has been an incredibly competitive summer at the box office. Even big hits like Man of Steel, Star Trek: Into Darkness, and World War Z have had their grosses eaten into due to too many big movies on the schedule, and again these were the hit films. This doesn’t count outright flops like After Earth, White House Down, and The Lone Ranger. Universal obviously didn’t have any faith that R.I.P.D. would do well at the box office, and considering the circumstances I don’t blame them. The film will probably ultimately be a 100 million+ write-off for the company and will probably also serve as their only major blunder this year. But what a blunder R.I.P.D. has turned out to be. At least James Hong is still getting work.



4 responses to “What Went Wrong?: Vol. 33 – R.I.P.D.

  1. CMrok93 July 23, 2013 at 9:54 pm

    It wasn’t as terrible as everybody made it out to be, but it was pretty damn bland. Wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes a best-seller at the dollar theaters in the next week or so. Good post.

  2. Bruce Dickson December 21, 2013 at 9:31 pm

    I think we have a pattern here, also visible in MIB 3 and RED 2: NO NEW IDEAS. Our mainstream, corporate-consumer culture is dying, dead, out of gas, running on fumes. I suspect there will be more movies about nothing that hope high production values compensate for an utter lack of relevance to the post-2012 world and utter lack of any new thinking. We used to call movies like this “product,” well made but without conviction.
    It’s a shame in a way because MIB 3 and RIPD are exceptional from an effect POV. These tow simply prove the well-known wisdom in VFX that story and character are king.
    “After Earth” could posibly be included in this “no new ideas” frame; tho I loved the hook, “Danger is real; fear is a choice.”
    Yah cheers that James Wong is still working!

  3. Bruce Dickson December 21, 2013 at 9:38 pm

    It used to be sci-fi movies were a source of new cultural ideas, like Star Wars and the Matrix. For sci-fi movies to be “new” in the post-2012 world, they will have to go greener and more whole-brained–what we used to call “spiritual.”
    Fictional “spiritual” movies are devilishly hard to write. This is why so many of the new ideas in movies now are coming in thru documentaries.

    • CultureCast-Z December 23, 2013 at 12:17 pm

      I appreciate and love your insight. Thanks for the posts. I’ve been trying to argue lately that we’ll never see another Star Wars or The Matrix-style cultural phenomenon again, largely because of how the internet works. When a film production starts these days, we already know so much about it. Think of the production stills we saw years before The Dark Knight Rises, Iron Man 3, The Avengers, etc all came out. We get things spoiled for us in promo images, trailers, internet and magazine features, etc. And thing is, no one cares. People care more about whether or not they got the costumes right than if the story is good, new, unique, different, etc. The last sci fi film to come out and genuinely surprise me might have been Limitless, and that was three years ago (seriously, what an underrated little sci fi film). We don’t need to know everything about a movie before it comes out. When will we learn this?

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