To say the new Ryan Reynolds/Jeff Bridges comedic actioner "R.I.P.D." is dead on arrival is too easy. But then again, so is this film.
Cobbled together from the pieces of supernatural fantasy comedies of years past, this film adaptation of a comic book by Peter M. Lenkov feels like a lost thruway film from the ’90s. Taking the look of "Men in Black" mixed with the dry humor of "Ghostbusters" and the central romantic conceit of "Ghost," "R.I.P.D" feels like a mishmash of ideas.
Ryan Reynolds plays a Boston cop named Nick Walker who reluctantly steals evidence from a drug bust with his longtime partner Bobby (Kevin Bacon). When he decides he wants to turn the evidence back in, Bobby gives him an appreciative shot to the chest. But before Nick can ascend to Judgment, he is sucked into a blank white office where the human resources manager (Mary-Louise Parker effectively doing her usual schtick) tells him that he can hold off Judgment Day if he works for the Rest in Peace Department for the next century. And by "work," she means finding all the dead people ("deados") that refuse to be judged and who live on Earth disguised as living, breathing people. The deados wreak havoc on Earth, which is where all the bad things that happen to us come from.
Eventually, Nick decides he has to get revenge on his partner before he gets in bed with his now-widowed wife, Julia (Stephanie Szostak). (See the "Ghost" references?) Meanwhile, Bobby has plans of his own that involve pieces of an ancient artifact known as the Staff of Jericho that will make the dead fall down upon the Earth. What will that do for them, exactly? Unclear, as is most of the meandering script by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi ("Clash of the Titans").
What is clear is that Nick will be partnered with Roy Pulsifer, an honest-to-goodness six-shooter from the Old West played with a knowing wink by Jeff Bridges. Sounding like his Rooster Cogburn from "True Grit," but with a spring in his step, Bridges is trying very hard here to make this film relevant in any way possible. Unfortunately, it’s not enough.
The plot of "R.I.P.D" is not only rickety, it’s fairly dull. Everything feels like something we’ve seen before. There are inventive moments sprinkled throughout that should have made the film work. One of the best is that when Nick and Roy start chasing the deados through the streets of Boston, they aren’t allowed to look like their former selves. This is to make sure they don’t try to contact anyone from their former lives. So to the general population, they appear as something quite different. For Nick, he looks like an old Chinese man waving a banana instead of a gun. More amusing is that Roy looks like a hot buxom blonde poured into a skintight glittery party dress. The problem with this bit of cleverness is that it is not used well. It could have been a consistent visual gag that sparked fits of hilarity. Instead, it’s a mildly amusing conceit that ends up going nowhere.
The CGI effects are fine, although most of the deados look like cartoon versions of something out of "Beetlejuice." They also never feel all that threatening. Director Robert Schwentke hasn’t figured out his genre of specialty yet what with "Red," "Flight Plan," and "The Time Traveler’s Wife" on his resume. Here, he attempts for the preternatural comedic gem of yesteryear and winds up with a film that has no point of view and nothing to say. Even silly comedies have a point; the characters have something to learn about themselves. The fantasy and sci-fi elements should provide a comment on a larger world view, but here it’s simply about a relatively decent guy who wants to catch the jerk who killed him, and save face. But that plot point comes far too late for us to care.
Mostly, "R.I.P.D" is loud, busy, and fairly chatty. Sadly, the banter isn’t all that amusing even though Bridges does his best to bring a Johnny Depp/Jack Sparrow element to his role. Unfortunately, he doesn’t quite hit the mark, and neither does Reynolds who plays the straight man even though he’s proven to be a pretty funny comedic actor. Blame it on the director and a script that fails to excite or, ultimately, amuse. It won’t be long before we are looking at this film and saying quietly to ourselves, "Rest in peace."