If you’re going to borrow, at least borrow from the best. That seems to have been the guiding principle behind director Robert Schwentke’s hit-and-miss (mostly miss) mash-up of Men in Black and Ghostbusters. Based on Peter M. Lenkov’s Dark Horse comic series and no doubt greenlit with the hope of many future sequels, R.I.P.D is no worse than half a dozen other $100 million-plus duds this summer, but it’s not much better either.
Ryan Reynolds, who’s also currently in theaters as the voice of the speedy animated snail Turbo, stars as Nick Walker, a smartass Boston cop with a wife he loves (Stephanie Szostak) and a decision he regrets. Along with his less conscience-stricken partner (Kevin Bacon), he pocketed a stash of gold during a drug bust. But before he can give back the loot, Bacon double-crosses and kills him. (Don’t worry, this all happens in the first five minutes and, trust me, you’ll see it coming from a mile away). Instead of being sent to heaven or hell — or getting reincarnated into a speedy animated snail — Nick is sucked up into the sky and lands in a strange way station: the headquarters of the Rest in Peace Department. He’s met by Mary Louise Parker, who plays the sarcastic, no-nonsense boss of the joint, and is informed that his after-life will be a lot like his previous life back on Earth. He?ll be putting away bad guys as a cop in limbo land. The big difference is, these aren’t just bad guys, they’re ”Deados,” deceased creatures who, due to a clerical error, have escaped judgment and have returned to earth disguised as regular, ordinary humans. The only way to make their true cartoonishly Hulk-like selves appear is to assault their senses with exotic spices found in Indian food. Wait, what?
Nick is assigned a veteran R.I.P.D. partner to saddle up with, and that’s when the film briefly jolts to life. Why? Because in walks Jeff Bridges’ Marshall Roycephus Pulsifer, a rootin’ tootin’ Old West lawman who’s a cross between Bridges’ own Rooster Cogburn from True Grit and Yosemite Sam. Naturally, as Screenwriting 101 dictates, they don’t get along.
One of the film’s best jokes is how the living see the dead R.I.P.D. cops on earth as they’re hunting Deados. To prevent them from contacting their loved ones, they don’t look like themselves. Nick appears as an ”old Chinese guy” (veteran character actor James Hong) and Bridges looks like Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Marisa Miller (Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Marisa Miller). Bridges has a field day putting male horndogs in their place as they try to hit on him. There aren’t enough clever gags like that in the film.
As the mismatched cops stumble onto a Deado conspiracy to construct a device that will allow them to live on earth forever and reverse the cosmic flow of dead bad guys on their way to the afterlife, the film becomes exhausting and nonsensical. But fear not. Because before you can finish scratching your head, Bridges inevitably does something to give the whole thing another dose of kick-in-the-pants anarchy. He chews the scenery (and his cud) with the same sort of wild abandon that Johnny Depp brought to the first Pirates of the Caribbean film. And while he’s having more fun than anyone in the audience is likely to be having, it’s such a rip-snorting go-for-broke performance that it almost makes R.I.P.D. worth the price of admission. Almost. C+