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  • Writer's pictureMatt Conway

R.I.P.D. 2 Rise of the Damn: Review

In Hollywood, aspiring franchise starters represent risky rolls of the dice for studio executives. When the stars align, brands like the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Conjuring Universe become household staples and nonstop money-makers. However, for every success story lies a graveyard of catastrophic failures destined for a purgatory existence in irrelevance.

2013’s R.I.P.D. is a picturesque example of an untimely disaster. Universal gathered two marquee actors (Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds) and dispensed more than $150 million for what they hoped could be the next Men in Black-esque sci-fi/comedy adventure franchise. Instead, the adaptation of a niche graphic novel tanked with audiences and received even worse assessments from critics. The film squandered any potential that its premise, which focuses on deceased crimefighters serving as protectors of the afterlife, presented in a sloppy and aggressively underwhelming production.

Out of the ether of random movie news, Universal is quietly reviving the R.I.P.D. brand with the straight-to-video prequel, R.I.P.D. 2: Rise of the Damned (the studio also green-lit a recent sequel for another 2013 box office bomb, 47 Ronin). It’s hard to imagine what inspired a continuation of R.I.P.D. other than some cockamamie attempt at keeping a known property with limited mainstream interest.

I am happy to report that Rise of the Damned marks a considerable improvement from its thankless predecessor. Unfortunately for this western-themed prequel, that distinction isn’t a glowing appraisal.

Credit to the creative team for at least imbuing a genuine effort into the proceedings. Director and co-screenwriter Paul Leyden maximize the most he can muster from his limited budgetary assets, infectiously adopting a series of ingenious practical effects and surprisingly-competent computer effects with technical aplomb. Leyden also embraces the western aesthetic with some success, utilizing sparse yet effective sets to establish a sense of place. It’s impressive that Rise of the Damned looks genuinely superior to its predecessor considering the significant gulf in expenses dedicated to both projects.

There is enough spirit and genuine goodwill elevating Rise of the Damned, including a vibrant lead performance from character actor Jeffery Donovan as an old-school, gunslinging sheriff. That said, Damned never escapes its entirely disposable design.

It doesn’t help that Leyden and co-screenwriter Andrew Klein rarely imbue creative ideas into their screenplay. Even with a drastically different setting, Rise of the Damned sticks almost exclusively to the narrative blueprint laid out by its wayward predecessor. Moments of saccharine melodrama, lame-duck plot twists, and lackluster gags are abundant throughout as the film spends most of its runtime trying to tread entertaining waters. There’s a nugget of an engrossing idea to this prequel’s blend of histrionics and the supernatural, but the movie never embraces its unique concept with the care it deserves.

Rise of the Damned’s competence ends up becoming a dual-edged sword. Like most straight-to-video projects, the film is not trying all that hard to deliver anything more than forgettable fluff for viewers to digest and then quickly forget. The apparent lack of ambition and creativity morphs this prequel into just another hapless, straight-to-video product destined to take up space at the bottom of your local bargain bin.

Universal is likely pleased with Rise of the Damned, which quickly trended on Netflix’s Top 10 after its release. Aside from meeting the studio’s release quota, Rise of the Damned offers no discernable reason to exist. I think it’s time Universal lay to rest the rest in peace department for good.

R.I.P.D. 2: Rise of the Damned is now available on DVD and streaming.


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