If the “Ghostbusters” and “Men In Black” franchises had a one-night stand, then “R.I.P.D.” would be the result of their cinematic love affair: an entertaining, albeit predictable, child who is doomed to haunt this planet as a ripoff of the classics. Released July 19, the supernatural buddy-cop comedy was directed by German Robert Schwentke (“Flightplan,” “The Time Traveler’s Wife”), who proved his worth in quirky, action comedies with 2010’s “RED.” The sequel of “RED” was also released the same day as “R.I.P.D,” but was not directed by Schwentke.
Based on Peter M. Lenkov’s comic book of the same name, “R.I.P.D.” centers around the Rest In Peace Department, an otherworldly police force whose sole (pun intended) duty is to track down and capture the rotting souls who escape judgment and wreak havoc on the living. While it borrows most of its material from better movies that are branded into the fabric of pop culture, “R.I.P.D” is light and fun summer fare that carves a comfortable little niche for itself over the course of its modest 96 -minute running time.
The film’s main protagonist is Boston detective Nick Walker, played by pretty boy Ryan Reynolds in a cookie-cutter role that could be substituted for any Hollywood heartthrob. It more or less also makes up for his involvement in “Green Lantern” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” Walker is a somewhat honest cop with a loving French wife played by Stephanie Szostak (“Dinner For Schmucks”). The excellently charming Kevin Bacon plays his corrupt partner served with a side of extra sleaze. As in “Mystic River,” Bacon plays a Boston cop, but here he gets to exercise his bad-guy chops for the first time since “X-Men First Class.” After being killed in a drug raid, Nick is recruited by the R.I.P.D. to fight “Deados,” escaped souls that hide out among the living world who are responsible for global warming, the black plague and bad cell phone reception. This is just the beginning of the highly illogical Ghostbusterish fun.
The headquarters of the Rest In Peace Department is reminiscent of the sterile “Men In Black” HQ in New York’s Battery Park. However, this otherworldly police station is filled with the greatest lawmen who ever lived and died from every era of human history: 1930s detectives, English Bobbies, even “Starsky and Hutch” types. Like the “MIB” movies, there are always so many clever Easter eggs hidden in these types of scenes that it requires multiple viewings to find all of them.
Walker is partnered with Roy Pulsipher, a 19th-century gun-slinging western cowpoke lawman played by the hilariously deadpan Jeff Bridges doing his “True Grit” Rooster Cogburn accent, which is a little hard to understand at times. The mismatched pairing of Nick and Roy is the source of most of the movie’s comedy, as the two buttheads and exchange witty repartee. Still, this doesn’t mean that we have not seen this kind of stuff before. Reynolds is the young wisecracking rookie (cough, Will Smith), and Jeff Bridges is the thick-skinned no-nonsense veteran who likes to give his new partner a hard time (Tommy Lee Jones, cough). While similar to Danny Elfman’s “Men In Black” score, Christophe Beck’s soundtrack has a ‘70s cop vibe to it, with Western and contemporary influences to match the differing eras of its lead characters.
The screenwriters trade in proton packs for guns that shoot glowing soul bullets that can erase a spirit from the cosmos. What ensues is fitting comic book action as the two partners track down spirits who have a strong aversion to Indian food, which, for some strange reason that is never really explained, causes them to transform into monsters with physical attributes that mirror their sins during life. Like Slimer in “Ghostbusters,” they’re detestably lovable repugnant monsters. They lend themselves to some nifty scenes with pretty solid special effects as Roy and Nick chase and fight the undead scum on the streets and rooftops of Boston, falling from large heights and getting hit by vehicles without so much as a scratch to show for it. The funniest part of it all is their appearance to humans. Nick appears as an old Chinese man (James Hong) wielding a banana for a gun, while Roy gets the persona of a smokin’ hot blonde played by model Marissa Miller. All this supernatural crime fighting causes them to stumble upon a plot involving a mystical Indiana Jones-like artifact that causes the movie’s major conflict. The afterlife is treated more like a whimsical bureaucracy than anything else.
Through it all, Schwentke tries to add a heartbeat to all the mindless, soulless, slapstick action by having Nick haunt his wife, who only sees him as Grandpa Chen. It’s at these points that you might see similarities to 1990’s “Ghost.” While these scenes are just barely able to touch your heart, you needn’t worry because Ryan has nothing on Patrick Swayze.
Ironically, the $130 million “R.I.P.D.” is dying at the box office, taking in a meager $12 million during its opening weekend. Nevertheless, for all its shortcomings, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the movie. While it stands on the shoulders of better movies, it doesn’t really disgrace them. It pays a loving homage to them while putting its own little twist on the “There’s more to the human world than you thought” premise. Moving at a brisk pace, it’s a fun ride even with its many flaws, but it gets by on cleverness, comedy and extremely shallow emotional depth. I wouldn’t mind a sequel just to see how much deeper this supernatural rabbit hole goes and to check in with these likable characters again. As we all know, someone has to be called when there’s something strange in your neighborhood. After all, you only live once — or do you?