Poor Ryan Reynolds. After the back-to-back box office flops that were Green Lantern and The Change-Up, the struggling leading man really could have used another hit in the vein of Safe House. But R.I.P.D. with its sloppy mix of crime drama and action comedy isn't it. Simply put, this is a bad movie. That's not to say it's not fun though.
Based on the comic book Rest in Peace Department by Peter M. Lenkov, R.I.P.D. stars Reynolds as Nick Walker, a recently killed Boston cop who'a been recruited (or arguably blackmailed) into joining the titular police force. A bitingly deadpan Mary-Louise Parker gives him—and us—the rundown as R.I.P.D. captain Proctor, a humorless hard-ass. Sometimes sinister souls manage to escape judgment, lingering on Earth bodies and all. These are called Deados, and their rotten soul stench causes all kinds of problems for the living, from bad cell reception and Global Warming to the Black Plague. That's where R.I.P.D. comes in. Cops from the past hundred years or so have been teamed up to track these Deados down and make them face reckoning…or failing that shooting them with a special gun that will completely wipe them from existence.
Walker is still adjusting to being dead when he's introduced to his reluctant partner, a wild man from the Old West named Roysiphus Pulsipher, or Roy for short. Played by Jeff Bridges, he is the movie's main source of comic relief as Reynolds' Walker glumly tries to use his renewed access to Boston to solve the mystery that led to his own demise. Tthis odd couple of cops stumbles across a Deado conspiracy that puts Walker's widow in danger as well as the whole world at risk, and of course, Walker and Roy are mankind's last chance against being overrun by souls damned to hell. But Walker can't even warn his former wife because he's returned to Earth in a different body—that of an old Chinese man (James Hong). Roy, for his part, looks like model Marisa Miller when the living see him.
The premise is a mix of Men in Black, Dead Like Me, and Ghost, but R.I.P.D. is nowhere near as satisfying as any of them. Walker makes a lackluster lead, his drive to get revenge against the man who murdered him and protect his wife petty compared to the need to stop the world's end. Plus, his wife is a totally two-dimensional figure of damsel in distress, making it impossible to get too tied up in her peril. The computer graphics are just as underdeveloped. With Deados wreaking destruction across Boston—which may be an unwelcome sight so soon after the horrendous tragedies that befell the Boston Marathon—the clearly CGI monsters have texture that's not quite right, pulling us out of this wacky world each time. There are also several leaps in logic that strain believability—for instance a battle over the end of the world and just these two RIPD officers are on the scene? How is that possible?
But R.I.P.D. has virtues in its brevity and absolute outlandishness. While lots of summer movies seem to think more is more, or a longer running time means a better movie, R.I.P.D. is blissfully brief. And like Men in Black, its world is ripe with wild creatures and bonkers possibilities for adventure-- though the plot that has them chasing a priceless relic and the city-destroying battle at the end are less-welcome summer action movie cliches. While Bridges' apparent ad-libs could have used a bit more editing, he's a wonderful source of energy and humor in the film with several sidesplitting one-liners and a dedicatedly bizarre character creation. His snarling cowboy rides Walker's undead body like a bomb in Dr. Strangelove one minute, then laments his partner's hurtful words with an accordion accompanied song the next. And the reversals between him and his blonde model disguise surprisingly don't get old. Likewise, Parker is fun and devotedly strange as the ball-busting, beard-biting Proctor out of the 1960s, judging by her go-go boots and mod haircut. Reynolds at least excels at the slapstick required, but his brooding cop becomes a downer as this bonkers plot progresses.
Director Robert Schwentke can't get around the subpar CGI that makes his action sequences lack real-world weight, but he does make use of slow motion well, whether revealing the chaos unfolding around the just-killed Walker or narrowing in on a pivotal and badass moment of a gunfight. The emotional through line of the film is weak, bound to the dull Walker and his plot device wife. But the over-the-top performances by Bridges, Parker and even Kevin Bacon as a smirking corrupt cop kept me engaged, along with the rich weirdness of the film's world. All in all, I liked R.I.P.D., though I can't really recommend seeing it in theaters. It's a good diversion, but not a good movie.