You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘R.I.P.D.’

This generally uninspired mashup of 'Ghostbusters' and 'Men in Black' benefits from a hilariously free-associative performance by Jeff Bridges.

Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Bacon, Mary-Louise Parker, Stephanie Szostak, James Hong, Marisa Miller.

Thank heavens — or at least the “Department of Eternal Affairs” — for Jeff Bridges, whose hilariously free-associative performance as a 19th-century frontier marshal-turned-21st-century undead lawman is like an adrenaline shot to the heart of “R.I.P.D.” A generally uninspired mashup of “Ghostbusters” and “Men in Black” (plus a sprinkling of “Big Trouble in Little China”), the film is most notable for having had its obituary written by the press, and even its own studio’s marketing department, well before its release. While the end product still seems all but certain to turn up DOA at this weekend’s box office, the pic itself isn’t quite the calamity some portended, due largely to Bridges, some genuinely impressive visual effects and one of the few running times of the season well under two hours.

Like most of the summer’s other headline-grabbing underperformers (“After Earth,” “White House Down,” “The Lone Ranger” and “Pacific Rim”), “R.I.P.D.” bears the lipstick traces of a hoped-for franchise starter, with a comicbook pedigree, buddy-movie architecture and the nine-figure budget that seems to have become the universally accepted price of doing business in today’s Hollywood. At least it can be said that the money is on the screen here, especially during a Doomsday finale that turns downtown Boston into a kind of Wild West of the living dead. What’s most lacking is that thing only time — not money — can buy: a truly inventive and original script. (Pic was adapted by the “Clash of the Titans” team of Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi from Peter M. Lenkov’s Dark Horse comic series.)

SEE ALSO: Box Office: Two Ryan Reynolds Misfires in One Weekend?

Not exactly zombies in the classical sense, the pic’s pesky “deados” are troubled souls who, thanks to the equivalent of a clerical error in the great cosmic filing cabinet, have remained stuck on Earth instead of moving on to heaven or hell. The longer a deado stays in the world of the living, the more trouble it causes; hence the need for the titular Rest in Peace Department, deceased police officers who themselves manage to postpone Judgment Day by rooting out unruly deados, one beastie at a time. Minimum term of service: a century.

New to the force is Reynolds’ Nick Walker, first seen among the living as one of Beantown’s not-quite finest, a 15-year veteran of the force who has recently, in a moment of weakness, stolen evidence from a bust together with his longtime partner, Bobby (Kevin Bacon). When Nick confides that he’s having second thoughts and wishes to turn himself in, Bobby responds sympathetically by putting a bullet through his partner’s face.

At R.I.P.D. central, a busy hive of activity clearly modeled on production designer Bo Welch’s “Men in Black” HQ, Nick finds himself briefed by a world-weary personnel manager (sly, sardonic Mary-Louise Parker in the pic’s answer to Rip Torn’s Agent Zed), then paired with Roy (short for “Roycephus”) Pulsifer, a Stetson-wearing, six-shooter-twirling anachronism played by Bridges as a cross between “True Grit’s” Rooster Cogburn and Yosemite Sam. After that, it’s back to Boston, where Nick and Roy quickly pick up the scent of a deado conspiracy to rebuild an ancient totem (known as the Staff of Jericho) capable of reversing the order of the cosmos and literally making the dead rain down upon the living.

PHOTOS: Ryan Reynold’s Career by the Numbers

The flimsy setup is basically an excuse for a series of run-ins between the officers and the deados, who walk the streets disguised as humans but whose beastly selves can be lured out (in an amusingly dada conceit) by Indian spices. The elaborate creature transformations can be fun to watch, though none of the deados leave in individual impression on par with, say, “Ghostbuster'”s beloved Slimer. In one of the pic’s promising but underutilized comic ideas, R.I.P.D. officers themselves appear disguised on Earth — a system designed to prevent them from reaching out to former loved ones. For Nick, this means he becomes a doddering old Chinese man (veteran character actor James Hong) waving a banana instead of a gun, while Roy becomes a whiplash-inducing, buxom blonde (supermodel Marisa Miller). But director Robert Schwentke doesn’t seem to have figured out how to make the transitions work visually, and in the end the very game Hong and Miller have perhaps two minutes of screen time between them.

Reynolds, who proved himself a deft comic performer in 2005’s “Just Friends,” is largely confined to the straight-man role here. Bridges, however, hurls himself into Roy with such comic abandon that it’s tough to know how much of the character was there on the page and how much was being invented by the actor himself as he went along. (Certainly, the entire movie has the feel of one in which much was made up on the fly.) Rattling his trap nonstop, with a particular fondness for the gory details of his earthly demise (picked apart by coyotes in the desert), Roy doesn’t suffer fools or new partners gladly, but can turn suddenly fragile if anyone dares criticize him, at one point whipping out a squeezebox and wailing a hilariously maudlin ballad called “The Better Man” (co-written by Bridges and regular Coen brothers collaborator T-Bone Burnett). Like Johnny Depp’s work in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, it’s a performance that seems to say, “Look, I’m here for the payday. You know it. I know it. But as long as I’m here, I’m going to make things interesting for myself.”

Moment by moment, “R.I.P.D.” is diverting enough to keep 8-year-olds — and inner 8-year-olds — entertained as the mercury rises and the A/C struggles to keep up. But the premise, and isolated bits throughout, glimmer with just enough promise to make you wish Joe Dante had directed this in his prime, or anyone with more of a feel for comedy than Schwentke, who brings the same slickly professional but style-less sheen to everything he does, whether claustrophobic thriller (“Flightplan”), romantic melodrama (“The Time Traveler’s Wife”) or ostensible farce.

German lenser Alwin Kuchler’s handsome Boston location shooting fronts a generally solid tech package.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'R.I.P.D.'

Reviewed at Regal Cinemas E-Walk, New York, July 18, 2013. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 98 MIN.

Production: A Universal release and presentation of an Original Film/Dark Horse Entertainment production. Produced by Neal H. Moritz, Mike Richardson, Michael Fottrell. Executive producers, Ori Marmur, Ryan Reynolds, Jonathon Komack Martin, David Dobkin, Keith Goldberg, Peter M. Lenkov. 

Crew: Directed by Robert Schwentke. Screenplay, Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi; story, David Dobkin, Hay, Manfredi, based on the Dark Horse comic created by Peter M. Lenkov. Camera (Deluxe color, widescreen), Alwin Kuchler; editor, Mark Helfrich; music, Christophe Beck; production designer, Alec Hammond; supervising art director, Bruton Jones; art director, David E. Scott; set decorator, Kathy Lucas; set designers, Aric Cheng, Drew White, Geoff Hubbard, Sam Page, Lauren Polizzi; costume designer, Susan Lyall; sound (Datasat/Dolby Digital/SDDS), Tom Williams; sound designer, Jon Title; supervising sound editor, Dave McMoyler; re-recording mixers, Michael Minkler, Tony Lamberti, Greg Townsend; visual effects supervisor, Michael J. Wassel; visual effects, Image Engine, Level 256; supervising stunt coordinator, David Ellis; stunt coordinators, Corey Eubanks, Mike Gunther; associate producer, Alex Westmore; second unit director, David Ellis; second unit camera, Gary Capo; assistant director, Geoff Hansen; casting, Deborah Aquila, Tricia Wood.

With: Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Bacon, Mary-Louise Parker, Stephanie Szostak, James Hong, Marisa Miller.

More Film

  • Bob IgerSimon Weisenthal Gala honoring Bob

    Bob Iger Would Have Combined Disney With Apple if Steve Jobs Were Still Alive

    Disney and Apple are both launching their own streaming services come November, but Disney CEO Bob Iger says the two companies weren’t always on competing paths. In an excerpt from his autobiography published Wednesday in “Vanity Fair,” Iger revealed that Disney and Apple likely would have merged if Steve Jobs hadn’t died in 2011. “I [...]

  • Aaron Janus Lionsgate

    Lionsgate Hires 'A Quiet Place' Producer Aaron Janus as Senior VP of Production

    Lionsgate has hired Aaron Janus as its new senior vice president of production and promoted Meredith Wieck to the post of vice president of production.  Prior to Lionsgate, Janus served as Platinum Dunes’ head of development, where he oversaw filmmakers Brad Fuller, Andrew Form and Michael Bane. There, he brought in “A Quiet Place,” on [...]

  • Ang Lee Reveals First Look at

    Ang Lee on 'Gemini Man' and De-Aging Will Smith

    On paper, Ang Lee’s “Gemini Man” is a standard-issue, shoot ’em up with Will Smith playing a deadly assassin who must battle a younger clone of himself. The explosions and gun battles aren’t what drew Lee to the project, even if they’re the reason that most people will show up at theaters when it opens [...]

  • Hopper Reserve

    Dennis Hopper's Dying Wish: His Own Strain of Marijuana

    Even as celebrity brands are starting to flood the emerging Cannabis market, Hopper Reserve stands out. The brand was launched by Marin Hopper, Dennis Hopper’s daughter from his marriage to Brooke Hayward. Hopper Reserve is a gram of California indoor-grown flower, two packs of rolling papers, a pair of matches and a trading card either [...]

  • Sean Clarke Aardman Staff Photography Bristol.Pic

    Aardman Appoints Sean Clarke as New Managing Director

    Aardman, the Oscar-winning animation studio behind “Chicken Run” and “Early Man,” has appointed Sean Clarke as its new managing director, replacing co-founder David Sproxton, who is stepping down after 43 years. Clarke has worked at the British studio for more than 20 years, including heading the international rights and marketing department for over a decade. [...]

  • The Antenna

    Toronto Film Review: 'The Antenna'

    Jump scares, creepy noises and the tease of hidden-from-view dangers are all fine. But a truly frightening horror film unsettles with more than its crafts, but instead through the vulnerability of defenseless people stuck with bad options only. First-time writer-director Orçun Behram’s highly stylized and mildly disturbing “The Antenna,” a metaphor on Turkey’s current ruling [...]

  • Ad Astra Box Office

    Box Office Battle: 'Ad Astra' Takes on 'Rambo: Last Blood' and 'Downton Abbey'

    “Hustlers” and “Good Boys” proved that even in the age of Marvel dominance and remake mania, movies that don’t exist within an established franchise can still be box office draws. Can “Ad Astra” continue that trend? The space drama — starring Brad Pitt and directed by James Gray — arrives on the big screen this [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content