When it comes to films like Ripped, I get a little conflicted, as I recognize the efforts and good intentions of the filmmakers. However, if the film fails to convey either its drama or humor due to clichéd writing and overly lackadaisical performances, it’s hard to find a way to recommend such a movie.
On the skin of it, Ripped is a fairly straightforward stoner comedy about pursuing one’s dreams amid disastrous circumstances. It riffs on the legend of Rip Van Winkle (RIPped – get it?) by having its two lead characters wake up after a thirty-year, pot-induced coma. Both Harris (Russell Peters) and Reeves (Faizon Love) have to quickly adjust to a world that’s moved on in so many ways, both personally and technologically.
It sounds like a slam-dunk premise, too easy to mess up, right? It would have been miles better had the script by Billiam Coronel and director Brad Epstein been filled with actual characters, not caricatures. Each role onscreen is representative of the person they want to be rather than actually being the person. With a different director and some script tweaks, this could have been quite a stoner classic.
Yet we’re saddled with dialogue and situations straight out of films like Up In Smoke, Road Trip (in one painfully obvious theft), Kingpin, and the sappiest of romantic comedies involving a single mom and her child. Harris reunites with his former girlfriend Debbie (Alex Meneses) after finding his way back home, discovering she still lives in her childhood home and has a teenage son (Bridger Zadina) of her own. The only way he’ll be able to hang out with her (read: stay in her guest house while he and Reeves get back on their feet) is if he keeps on the straight and narrow, which means ditching all of their weed. Shyeah – like that’s gonna happen.
Too many times, we find ourselves not believing Peters – as the lead carrying more of the weight – because of poor line delivery of trite dialogue. He gives Harris no dramatic weight by walking through the part, seemingly not taking his circumstance seriously. It’s almost as if he’s only along for the ride, being an observer in his own story as he and Reeves try to start their own cannabis chili restaurant. And when trust is betrayed, we’re given the requisite comeuppance, but it feels wholly timeworn and shrugged off instead of being as devastating as the situation, the action, and the score want us to think. Peters is capable of much more, but his comedic skills go sorely underutilized by Epstein.
Thankfully, actors Love and Meneses are there to pick up the slack and steal every scene. Love’s Reeves is given the majority of the film’s comedy, and he has the bombast required of his role as Harris’ sidekick and fellow coma victim. A veteran of comedy films like The Replacements and the stoner epic Friday, Love elevates even the most banal of dialogue by throwing himself completely at the wall and making it stick. He gives us a fair amount of chuckles even though the script can’t support him; one immediate quotable from this is going to be from a scene where he tells an unexpected interloper to “Bounce, bitch!”
In the role of mother to not just her own child, but to two more men-children living in her guest house, Meneses’ presence is a touchstone of these proceedings. She humanizes Debbie and makes her strong, vulnerable, and independent; she’s as well-written as characters in this film could possibly be. Meneses likewise has the talent to buoy the hackneyed script and carve out a solid person from the vague characterization she’s given.
This is the character of Ripped – no one is given much to do, and it doesn’t really have much to say. Its actors simply do not have enough to sink their teeth into, simply moving from scene to scene hoping that stoner humor and man-out-of-time jokes will suffice. In turn, the audience has little to hold onto, barely made to care if Harris and Reeves’ business succeeds or fails. Yet when combined with Love and Meneses’ talents and the film’s inherent DIY charm, Ripped comes off as a mixed bag. It’s a film that’s neither here nor there; it just is.