R.I.P.D. is inert. It arrives DOA to moviegoers just begging for something slightly out of the ordinary, and yet cannot find a way to make its creative conceits gel. The reasons why are a mystery, considering the cast (Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Bacon), the director (RED and Flightplan‘s Robert Schwentke), and its clever comic book source. But something got lost in the translation. There’s a significant lack of fun here, even with monsters sashaying all over Boston and our heroes giving cartoony chase. There’s also a bit of witty dialogue, an attempt at love story, and an apocalyptic last act. So why doesn’t it work? Why does something so set on entertaining you end up inspiring a mere shrug of one’s shoulders?
Maybe it’s the flawed focus group approach to the narrative. Things happen way too fast here. Within minutes of the credits, our troubled cop Nick Walter (Reynolds) is promising his wife (Stephanie Szostak) that he’s a good guy, admits to his partner Bobby (Bacon) that he’s a bit uneasy about some gold they stole from a group of drug dealers, and is then gunned down in an ambush that was actually a set-up. Without explanation, he is sitting in front of the bureaucratic version of a human void, aka Mary-Louise Parker, and is being given a chance to be part of the afterlife’s own Rest In Peace Department. His job? Seek out escaped souls and return them for Judgment.
So far, too quick. Again, like lightning, we are introduced to his partner. Bridges’ former Texas Ranger Roycephus Pulsipher is a cagey old coot who speaks with a drawl so thick molasses wishes it was that viscous. He puts the rookie through the ropes, shows him the steps to identifying and capturing these AWOL “Dead-O’s,” and explains some of the finer points about the job. Eventually, they learn that an ambitious entity is trying to construct the Staff of Jericho, a golden talisman that will reverse the highway to the afterlife and rain the dead down on the living.
Sure, this is a lot like Men in Black. As a matter of fact, the generational dynamic between Bridges and Reynolds is played up, perhaps overly so. Similarly, all of our souls are subpar CG creations who reflect the manner in which they died (bullet through the head, jaw pulled from their lower mouth). We’ve got an end-of-the-world concern (which, honestly, is more Ghostbusters than anything else) and a secret agency working outside of everyday acknowledgement to keep the cosmos in balance. Perhaps in the hands of someone like Terry Gilliam or Robert Zemeckis, this movie would zip along on its inventiveness and eccentricity. But R.I.P.D. never builds a decent head of steam. Instead, it constantly stalls, as if someone filled out a comment card saying “cut out all that non-action bullcrap and get on with it,” and the studio suits agreed.
What we are left with is a series of well-meaning set-pieces, a couple of funny references, and a whole lot of static. Bridges seems up for the gig but Reynolds couldn’t locate his usual charms with a nuclear charisma finder. He seems bored and restless, as does Bacon, who did villainy much better in X-Men: First Class. As for Schwentke, he clearly went after this movie with the editing bay version of a meat cleaver. Nothing has a chance to register before we’re suddenly thrust into the next passable popcorn moment. While not the massive bomb some have predicted, R.I.P.D. just can’t compare to its Cineplex competition this summer. If ever a movie was made for countless repeats on the USA Network, this is it.