Bomb Squad: Why Did R.I.P.D. Tank?


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Welcome to “Bomb Squad,” a recurring column that takes a closer look at a movie that tanked at the box office and tries to figure out what happened.

From the outset, R.I.P.D. held some promise. Starring Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds, and based on a Dark Horse comic book, the film was being positioned as a new version of Ghostbusters or Men in Black, telling the story of two deceased, wisecracking policemen who team up to battle runaway paranormal folks who are seeking refuge among the living. The box office results, however, were ghastly: R.I.P.D. brought in less than $13 million in its first weekend, ending up in seventh place. (Even more painful, the film is said to have had a budget of $130 million.) What exactly happened here? Let’s take a look at some possible theories, some more convincing than others, and then come up with our verdict…

Theory No. 1: Ryan Reynolds can’t open a movie.

In a sane universe, Ryan Reynolds would seem to be your prototypical movie star. He’s handsome, he’s funny, he’s buff—quite simply, he simply looks the part. But when you check out his commercial track record, that’s when the problems start. His biggest hit is The Croods, an animated movie where he isn’t even the lead. Other movies that have performed well — X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Safe House and The Proposal — featured him in limited or second-fiddle roles. The one movie where he’s really the main attraction, Green Lantern, made over $116 million but was labeled a disappointment, in part because the reviews were scathing and in part because it supposedly cost at least $200 million to make. In R.I.P.D., he’s again supporting a bigger name — in this case, Jeff Bridges — but because his costar is a legend with an Oscar who seems above the messy needs of A-list stars to deliver huge box office, this new movie’s failure will probably hurt Reynolds a lot more than it does Bridges. (Also tarnishing Reynolds’ box-office credentials: He was the lead voice in Turbo, which underperformed this weekend as well.)

Theory No. 2: It just seemed like a Ghostbusters/Men in Black rip-off.

It’s no secret that Hollywood likes to recycle successful formulas, whether that means rebooting a franchise or copying what worked in a movie from the past. R.I.P.D. clearly was targeting fans who dug Ghostbusters and Men in Black — the new film has the same smirky attitude as those venerable action-comedies — but director Robert Schwentke never could quite figure out what made the Bridges/Reynolds pairing fun. Instead, it’s a lot of strained oil-and-water sparring without the clever characters that made those other franchises so breezy and engaging. Nobody would have loved Men in Black that much if it was just a bunch of nifty effects — they came for Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones.

Theory No. 3: Nobody was familiar with the source material.

More and more often, studios are very happy to serve up movies during the summer that are based on properties you already know: Star Trek Into Darkness, Iron Man 3, Monsters University. By comparison, R.I.P.D. was almost an original idea. Sure, it was adapted from Peter M. Lenkov’s comic book, but this is the first time it’s been made into a film. The problem with that rationale, however, is that this summer has actually been pretty decent when it comes to first-time films. The Heat, The Croods and Now You See Me all made over $100 million, each produced from an original screenplay. There’s always a market for fresh ideas, but R.I.P.D. clearly didn’t qualify in the minds of a lot of audiences.

Theory No. 4: Jeff Bridges keeps doing the same shtick.

Everybody loves Bridges, and with good reason. Ever since appearing in The Last Picture Show as a fresh-faced kid, he has proved to be one of Hollywood’s most enduring actors, finally winning a long-overdue Academy Award for his work in 2009’s Crazy Heart. But in recent years, he’s enjoyed turning out spirited, slightly nutso portrayals in films like Masked and Anonymous, Tron: Legacy and True Grit. (The height of such performances, of course, is in The Big Lebowski.) His performance as the Old West lawman Roy in R.I.P.D. is a silly twist on his drunken, ornery Rooster from True Grit, but it felt formulaic, Bridges going to the watch-me-be-kooky well once too often. It’s really hard to believe that a lot of people would have stayed away from R.I.P.D. just for that reason, but it’s always possible it was a contributing factor for some.

The Verdict

There are plenty of explanations for what might have contributed to the commercial failure of R.I.P.D. (For example, Universal’s decision to only screen the movie the night before its release was a strong indication to the world that the studio knew it had a stinker on its hands.) But the overarching problem seems, in hindsight, rather simple: There was nothing that interesting or compelling in what audiences saw in ads that made them want to seek out this movie. Especially in the summer, a film has to offer something genuinely exciting (or, at the very least, pleasantly familiar) to get people to come out. R.I.P.D. never did that, so it’s little surprise that it flat-lined.

You can follow Tim Grierson on Twitter.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Byrning Down the House

Everything You Need to Know About the Film That Inspired “Final Transmission”

Documentary Now! pays tribute to "Stop Making Sense" this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection

This week Documentary Now! is with the band. For everyone who’s ever wanted to be a roadie without leaving the couch, “Final Transmission” pulls back the curtain on experimental rock group Test Pattern’s final concert. Before you tune in Wednesday at 10P on IFC, plug your amp into this guide for Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Hailed as one of the best concert films ever created, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the energy and eccentricities of a band known for pushing the limits of music and performance.

Make an Entrance

Lead singer David Byrne treats the concert like a story: He enters an empty stage with a boom box and sings the first song on the setlist solo, then welcomes the other members of the group to the stage one song at a time.

Steal the Spotlight

David Byrne Dancing
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Always a physical performer, Byrne infuses the stage and the film with contagious joy — jogging in place, dancing with lamps, and generally carrying the show’s high energy on his shoulders.

Suit Yourself

Byrne makes a splash in his “big suit,” a boxy business suit that grows with each song until he looks like a boy who raided his father’s closet. Don’t overthink it; on the DVD, the singer explains, “Music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head.”

View from the Front Row

Stop Making Sense Band On Stage
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Demme (who also helmed 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia, the inspiration for this season’s Documentary Now! episode “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”) films the show by putting viewers in the audience’s shoes. The camera rarely shows the crowd and never cuts to interviews or talking heads — except the ones onstage.

Let’s Get Digital

Tina Weymouth Keyboard
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense isn’t just a good time — it’s also the first rock movie to be recorded entirely using digital audio techniques. The sound holds up more than 30 years later.

Out of Pocket

Talk about investing in your art: Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone that the members of the band “basically put [their] life savings” into the movie, and they didn’t regret it.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Stop Making Sense when “Final Transmission” premieres Wednesday, October 12 at 10P on IFC.

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