An unholy mash-up of “Men in Black,” “Ghost” and the short-lived CW series “Reaper,” Robert Schwentke’s “R.I.P.D.” is yet another comic-book adaptation that should have stayed on the page. A veritable orgy of cheesy special effects, it aims to be loopy and cool but only succeeds at being dumb and boring.
Based on Peter Lenkov’s 1999 mini-series but extensively reworked by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, it’s about Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds), a Boston cop, who’s killed during a drug raid by his nefarious partner Hayes (Kevin Bacon) after they argue about some gold they’ve purloined from an earlier bust. In the afterlife Nick’s given the opportunity to redeem himself by working for the Rest in Peace Department, which is tasked with bringing in (or annihilating) so called “Dead-Os,” deceased guys who refuse to “move on” to the lower depths. Partnered with Roy Pulsifer (Jeff Bridges), an old-style Wild West lawman, Walker has to learn the ropes about taking down these malefactors, who turn into bulbous, smelly, destructive, cartoonish beasties when confronted. But he’s also driven to reconnect with his ex-wife (Stephanie Szostak), despite the fact that to humans he appears in the form of an old Chinese guy (James Hong). (Pulsifer’s avatar, on the other hand, is a sultry blonde bombshell played by Marisa Miller.) Nick also wants to bring down Hayes, of course.
To make a long story short—and since the movie clocks in at little more than ninety minutes, that seems fair—Nick and Roy’s escapades lead them to a massive Dead-O conspiracy to build an ancient artifact in the form of a golden tower that will release all the souls from hell and allow the malevolent deceased to take over the world. In the process, of course, they have to bond—difficult, since Roy is a garrulous, know-it-all maverick and the duo are like oil and water. But they manage to become a team and, in the sort of splashily over-the-top finale that’s mandatory in shlock like this, avert Armageddon.
The parallels to the “Men in Black” are obvious here, as are the nods to “Ghost,” but probably the biggest debt is actually to “Reaper,” a relatively small-scaled show that was sly where this elephantine mess is bombastically broad. There are a few potentially amusing twists here—the avatar situation, for example—but little is made of them, the makers apparently believing that hitting the audience over the head with puerile bits about the incongruity of repeatedly juxtaposing Bridges with Miller and Reynolds with Hong is enough for a laugh. And the end-of-the-world scenario is old hat, especially when it’s played out with an abundance sloppy sequences of buildings collapsing and tornado-like tunnels appearing in the sky, with Bacon—unsurprisingly the chief villain—presiding over it all with nostrils flaring and a maniacal gleam in his eye.
But the stars don’t help matters either. As usual, Reynolds is bland to the point of insignificance—didn’t “Green Lantern” teach the studios that this is not the “go-to” guy to carry this kind of silly extravaganza? As a result, the heavy lifting is thrust onto Bridges, who responds with one of his flamboyantly over-the-top turns, sort of a cross between Rooster Cogburn and Foghorn Leghorn. Though he tries to conceal it, there’s an air of desperation to all his scenery-chewing and semi-garbled speechifying, and you can’t help but feel a bit sorry for him despite the knowing twinkle in his eyes that practically says, “Yeah, I know this is junk.” Mary-Louise Parker abandons the wackiness of her “Reds” persona to play the prissy, stone-faced gal who presides over the R.I.P.D.
It all makes you wonder about the studio suits who, with a kind of professional death-wish, continue to green-light brazenly idiotic scripts for hugely expensive oddities like this—a predilection that in the past led to disasters like “Howard the Duck” and “The Adventures of Pluto Nash” and now gives us “R.I.P.D.” Schwentke’a misfire doesn’t reach the depths those notorious catastrophes did, but if it doesn’t earn a place in the deepest recesses of Hollywood’s Hall of Shame, that’s just another failure on its part.