There are two comic book movies in theaters this weekend. One of them is worth seeing. The other is not. The one to avoid is called “R.I.P.D.,” short for Rest in Peace Department, even though the experience of watching the movie is anything but peaceful.
Directed by Robert Schwentke of “RED” fame, “R.I.P.D.” centers on Nick Walker, a police detective who dies in the line of duty after he’s betrayed by an old friend. Instead of moving on to Heaven or down to Hell, Nick’s sent to the Rest in Peace Department, a police force from the great beyond. Their mission: to track down “Deados,” renegade spirits who roam the Earth and have an extreme aversion to Indian food. As the department’s newest arrival, Nick the rookie is partnered with legendary gunslinger and R.I.P.D. veteran Roy Pulsifer. They don’t like or respect each other, but they eventually realize that they’re uniquely positioned to halt a Deado plot to change life on Earth as we know it.
Got all that? Okay. Let’s start with what works.
As trailers for “R.I.P.D.” make clear, Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges’ characters do not look like Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges to the people of Earth. Instead, they look like veteran actor James Hong and model Marisa Miller. It’s the universe’s very own “witness protection” program. The concept yields a few fun exchanges in the movie, particularly on Bridges’ and Miller’s end.
Kevin Bacon is in “R.I.P.D.” You might not know it from the marketing campaign, but he is very much in the movie, hamming it up as crooked cop Bobby Hayes. Bacon adopts an over-the-top Boston accent around the midpoint of “R.I.P.D.,” and while there’s no explanation for the sudden shift, it’s oddly enjoyable. Hayes is a strange character with a strange role in the overarching plot, but Bacon provides a colorful performance that compensates for the story’s wonkiness.
Mary-Louise Parker is another highlight as Proctor, the senior officer at R.I.P.D. and Roy’s occasional lover. Parker is underutilized in the role, but she uses her signature quirkiness to add life to a fairly one-note character. Also, she billy-goats Jeff Bridges, and that’s worth something.
That’s about it for the good stuff.
Reynolds and Bridges’ talents are wasted. The former is given a thin story about grappling with his own death and the impact it’s had on his widow, played by the tragically underused Stephanie Szostak. There isn’t nearly enough time or story devoted to Szostak’s character, or developing her relationship with Nick, making it hard to care about their shared tragedy. Very little effort is spent on fleshing out Walker at all, in fact, even though he’s the hero of the piece. Instead of a character, we just get another version of snarky Reynolds — a bored version, really, of someone we’ve seen in several other movies to much better effect.
Bridges, meanwhile, is flavorful as wild cowboy Roy, but almost too much so next to the subdued Reynolds. He’s also unintelligible. What worked for Rooster Cogburn doesn’t work in a fast-paced action movie. It’s already tough keeping up with what’s on camera, and having a leading man spew forth completely indecipherable dialogue only makes things harder. The fact that he has no meaningful place in the story doesn’t help, either. He’s just a goofy character, one designed to make kids laugh — even though “R.I.P.D.” isn’t exactly kid-friendly.
And that’s a weird thing to say, considering the tone of “R.I.P.D.” It’s full of gross-out humor and bad slapstick and stupid CGI monster-things designed for a younger, juvenile audience. But it also features references to having sex with a dead body’s skull. It basically begins with a man eating a face-full of machine gun fire, falling over a balcony, landing on top of his head and breaking his neck on impact. Not exactly kid stuff. “R.I.P.D.” tries to have its cake and eat it too, but it’s not smart or daring enough for an older audience, and it’s not safe for children. It’s angled toward a crowd looking for brain-dead fun, but those very same viewers have better options to consider in rival “RED 2” and holdover “Pacific Rim.”
This is all a shame, because there are so many great ingredients in the “R.I.P.D.” recipe. It sports a cast of all-stars like Bridges, Reynolds, Parker and Bacon, a proven director in Schwentke and an easily palatable premise of “Men in Black” meets “Ghostbusters.” But it lacks the joy, craft, design and thoughtful world-building of those two movies. It doesn’t utilize the talents at its disposal. Somewhere along the way, the ingredients came together all wrong.
I wanted to root for “R.I.P.D.” because it has so much going for it on paper. But within minutes, I just wanted it to end — peacefully or otherwise.
“R.I.P.D.” is in theaters now.