Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Genre: Action Comedy
Premise: (from IMDB) A recently slain cop joins a team of undead police officers working for the Rest in Peace Department and tries to find the man who murdered him.
About: RIPD is an adaptation of a comic book written by Peter M. Lenkov. Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges are attached. I might be insane, but I thought I heard Jack Black was attached to it as well. Maybe someone can clarify this for me. I’d love to know, since I think Black and Reynolds would make an interesting pairing (which would then make Bridges the bad guy). Though from the comic cover, it looks like Bridges may be one of the two cops. Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, the writers, wrote Aeon Flux, The Tuxedo, Clash of The Titans, and Crazy/Beautiful.
Writers: Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi (revisions by Brian Koppelman & David Levien) (Current Revisions by Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi) (Based on the comic by Peter M. Lenkov.)
Details: 9/12/08 draft (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time the film is released. This is not a definitive statement about the project, but rather an analysis of this unique draft as it pertains to the craft of screenwriting).

I can’t decide if RIPD is a really cool update of Ghostbusters or an eerily similar retread of Men In Black. But I can tell you this. It’s damn fun. And funny too. It wouldn’t have mattered if they weren’t coming out with a second installment of the MIB franchise (or third - depending on how you classify MIB2) soon, but since we’re going to be re-reminded of this format, RIPD will have to differentiate itself somehow. Then again, they did just digitally overlay Thailand on top of The Hangover and called it Hangover 2 and it made a bajillion dollars. So maybe being an exact replica doesn’t matter. What’s strange is the element that makes RIPD so similar to MIB doesn’t need to be in the story if you think about it. More on this in a bit.

Nick Walker is a good cop. Except he’s also a bad cop. Well, not “bad” bad, but bad enough where he’s buried a box of gold he helped steal with his partner, which he of course plans to use for good things – like setting up a safe future for him and his wife. The problem is, Nick gets shot dead a day later while pursuing Chicago’s most notorious criminal, a man they simply call “Lime.”

Instantly, he’s recruited into the Chicago R.I.P.D. – The Rest In Peace Department - the police department responsible for keeping the undead in check. You see, since so many people die every day, certain souls are able to slip through the system, souls who are almost certainly on their way down, which means there are plenty of bad dudes hanging around the city needing a little undead justice.

There are a couple of caveats. First, Nick’s not allowed to make contact with anyone he knew in the real world. That means no booty calls with the wifey. Second, he’s paired up with Bo, a veteran cop who died all the way back in the 1800s and was originally a sheriff in the Old West. Bo is particularly prickly because he once had the greatest partner in the world and no one – and he means no one – can ever measure up to him. Especially Nick. Which he is going to let Nick know about every step of their undead journey together.

Anyway, these two bickering badges are tasked with taking down Lime, who we find out is not only the kingpin of the real criminal world, but also the ghost world. The plot thickens when we find out that a certain key Lime is looking for that will release all of the undead into the real world happens to be locked in that box of gold Nick buried at the beginning of the movie and since the bad dudes can’t get a hold of Nick, they go straight to his wife to find out where the box is. With his wife in danger, Nick and Bo will need to figure out a way to save her without being able to contact her, and oh yeah, then save the world.

Okay, heres’ the skinny on RIPD. It’s good. Dare I say it has the potential to be super-good, which is a level of good just under awesome but still above sweet. But here’s the issue that keeps rearing its ugly head. Every bad guy in RIPD sounds exactly like an alien out of MEN IN BLACK. They’re big. They’re slimy. They have tentacles. They’re basically monsters. My question is: Since when do dead people become monsters? Aren’t ghosts and monsters two different things? The obvious answer is that big tentacled 20 foot tall monsters are a lot more cinematic than invisible people. However, I think the audience is savvy to this cheat. So before this goes any further, the writers need to at least explain why once you become a ghost, you turn into a chowder-slinging dump-truck sized pile of pus. Either that or just go with ghosts. Maybe the ghosts have cool powers, and that’s where the sizzle needed for the trailers happens (although I guess you could argue that there were a lot of monsters in Ghostbusters – though in my memory that was explained better somehow).

The next issue is that it’s unclear how the dead world and the living world interact. It seems like there are no ill-effects on the real world when something happens in the dead world, lowering the stakes for all of the action that happens. When our guys are racing through Dead Chicago, chasing the bad guys, nobody living even notices. Something feels wrong about that. There needs to be an effect on the real world somehow.

Now on to the good. And there’s a lot of it. This is a great execution of a high concept summer movie premise. Remember, whenever you’re writing a summer adventure movie, you’re dealing with characters who don’t exist in the real world. If you and I were both chasing a 40 foot tall killer squid, for example, you wouldn’t start humming “Under the sea” to lighten the mood while we dashed and ducked our way to turning him into sushi (that doesn’t happen here – I’m just using it as an example). Because characters don’t act in anything resembling a real-world manner, it leaves the writer out in left field as to how to make their actions believable. I felt that Hay and Manfredi pulled that off here.

One of the ways they did this was with the wife character. Putting Nick’s wife in peril gave the story a sense of real-world stakes. We wanted her to live and were therefore willing to suspend our disbelief to see if she did. Making it so that Nick couldn’t contact her was also a stroke of genius as it had us asking the terrifying question of, “Well then how is he going to save her??”

I also loved Bo. I loved him talking about his old partner and getting all emotional about the Old West and how it wasn’t as easy as everybody thought it was. I can’t remember a time this year I laughed as hard as when Bo offers the revelation about what happened between his skull and a coyote. I guess I’m just so used to these pairings being by-the-book, that having a crotchety old ghost harping on about shit that happened to him 130 years ago was just… different. I loved it.

The script also did the little stuff well. Like I’ve noted before. If you’re writing a high-concept film, you HAVE TO HAVE a ticking time bomb. This provides URGENCY for your movie. If you don’t have urgency in a summer movie, I got news for you fella. You don’t have a movie. The 56 hours til Full Moon is the clock here. There’s also lots of twists in RIPD, another necessity in a movie like this. You gotta keep your audience on its toes. They’re not here just to watch special effects. They want to be engaged in the story. That means you need to be unpredictable, you need to turn things on their head every once in awhile. For example (spoiler), when we find out Nick’s partner sold him out, it hits us hard, because we trusted him.

In the end, this nails that fun high concept feel a big blockbuster should have. Sure there are little problems here and there. The rules connecting the two worlds haven’t been ironed out yet. And it’s convenient that that little buried box has so many things in it that so many people want, but the chemistry between the leads is great, there’s a satisfying emotional element in the Nick/wife relationship, and overall, it’s just fun.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: I have a friend I speak to about once a week. He likes movies, but is not in, nor does he know anything about, the movie business. At some point during our weekly conversation, he asks me if I’ve read any cool scripts lately. Now on an average week, I can read anywhere between 10-20 scripts. Despite this, there are weeks where I can’t think of a single idea worth telling him about. Think about that for a second. 20 ideas. Nothing worth telling another person about. Since the pursuit of this profession is all about getting people to read your screenplays, that’s a problem. So the next time you’re gearing up to write a screenplay, ask yourself that. “Is this an idea that someone would want to tell someone else about?” It’s a simple but very important question. A movie about dead cops who patrol the afterlife is an idea I’d tell my friend about. Now that doesn’t mean that every idea has to be a summer movie type idea. It just means the idea has to have something interesting, unique, clever, or cool about it. Something that - simply - gets other people talking about it.