Nick (Ryan Reynolds) is a Boston cop with a bright future. He has a lovely wife, but there’s not a lot of money involved in police work, so when his partner Hayes (Kevin Bacon) has a great idea to make off with some stolen gold found during an investigation, Nick doesn’t listen to his conscience and takes the plate. However, pretty soon his better nature takes over, and he tells Hayes he wants to go straight. That’s enough to trigger Hayes’ worse nature, so he executes his partner during a big drug raid.
Fortunately, Nick has a special set of skills that makes him coveted by the Rest In Peace Department, or R.I.P.D.. They stop deados, bad souls who have refused to move on to their greater destination by lingering behind on earth, and Nick finds himself paired with Roy (Jeff Bridges), and 1800’s lawman who is quick with a quip and even quicker to pump soul killer bullets into a deado’s head. The two of them, on their first mission, uncover a familiar piece of gold and thus, a plot.
As it turns out, that gold medallion thing Nick and Hayes recovered was part of a massive gold artifact used to reverse the flow of souls from heaven back onto earth, which would cause a disaster on Earth. Unsurprisingly, Nick and Roy are the only two cops who can stand in the way of the apocalypse. Funny how that works out!
The best thing that R.I.P.D. has going for it is Jeff Bridges. He’s essentially doing a take on Rooster Cogburn, but it’s a take that works really well. He’s usually the most interesting character on screen, and he puts a lot of energy into selling his comments, punctuating his speeches with physical movements or expressions, and generally working very hard to make his character work. For the most part, he’s successful, and as the movie progresses, his character is the one that stays fun, keeps the laughs coming, and shows more than a little competence during action sequences. He’s the sort of character that you need headlining an action comedy romp, because the actor is good at both things.
As for Ryan Reynolds, he’s taken a severe wrong turn from the day in which he kept Blade: Trinity watchable with his charisma. Indeed, it seems that he’s simply not cut out to be the lead player in a blockbuster, and when he’s given the ball here, he stumbles with it. He’s the polar opposite of Bridges in the sense that he seems to be constantly overshadowed by him, Kevin Bacon, Mary Louise Parker, or the CGI. If you could cut him out (or swap him with Kevin Bacon), you get a much better movie, because Bacon is nothing if not watchable—see his work on The Following, since he’s the only good thing about the show—and Mary Louise Parker makes a great prim foil to the outsized Roy.
I can’t help but feel all the players, Reynolds included, are let down by the story. This is a movie we’ve seen a lot, from Men In Black on, and R.I.P.D. does nothing to change anything about the formula. Grizzled veteran meets rookie in a world beyond all comprehension, smear liberally with special effects, and repeat. Reynolds gets little in the way of personality to play with, and he seems to do little beyond befuddlement. Given the cast the project was able to attract, I can’t help but wonder if there’s a better version of this film floating around than the one credited to writers Phil Hay and Matt Mandredi. It’s pretty dry, and all the digital mayhem in the world can’t spice up the bland action/comedy curry.
The few good comedic moments, mostly from Bridges or avatars Marisa Miller and James Hong, are wasted by director Robert Schwentke. The movie is loud and dizzying, with most of the movie’s cooler set pieces ruined by the style in which they are presented. The camera is more active than some of the characters, and rather than disguising the CGI, it seems to accentuate it to a great degree. The movie’s one cool moment is the frozen tableau which greets Nick in the moments after his initial death (which is a poorly done CGI fall). The film is entirely too busy, and the menagerie of baddies would be more at home in a cartoon than in a live-action film.
There are good elements in R.I.P.D., but the movie seems to have no idea how to put them all together. The idea isn’t a particularly novel one, but the movie’s positives (a great supporting cast behind Reynolds) end up being completely mishandled by poor direction and a poor script. Turns out the Men In Black formula isn’t quite as easy to replicate as Hollywood studios might think.