Based on the comic series by Peter M. Lenkov, R.I.P.D. stars Ryan Reynolds as a recently slain dirty cop who is drafted by the Rest In Peace Department for his unique skill set and sent back into the land of the living to catch escaped souls hiding out on Earth. To teach him the ropes, Nick (Reynolds) is paired with Roy Pulsipher (Jeff Bridges), an persnickety lawman straight out of the Old West who has hunted souls for centuries.
The comparisons to Men in Black are too obvious to ignore, but R.I.P.D. does have one thing going for it that the MIB franchise has been missing since the late 1990’s: a fresh take. As goofy and unoriginal as the concepts behind R.I.P.D. are, the movie puts its own spin on things while delivering an impressive production design as well as sense of fun missing from far too many of this summer’s movies. The weapons of the film are a mix between MIB and Hellboy while the design of R.I.P.D. headquarters, once again borrowing heavily on other films (most notably MIB), creates a nice mix of out-of-control underworld bureaucracy and an incredibly clean police station.
Despite being based off an obscure comic few have read, the movie includes appearances by several well-known stars and an unexpected $130 million budget which is used to great effect in the creation of the movie’s monsters and special effects. Along with Reynolds and Bridges, we get Mary-Louise Parker as a R.I.P.D. bureaucrat and case worker and Kevin Bacon as the film’s villain whose true motivations will be slowly revealed. And since our heroes can’t return to Earth in the bodies that others may recognize, we also see James Hong and Marisa Miller cast as the outward appearances of Nick and Roy respectively (providing several unique situations for humor over the course of the movie in one of the best touches by screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi).
If I do have a complaint with the look and style of the film it’s the final act where, like so many recent action movies, story is completely abandoned for a CGI-heavy high stakes action scene on which the entire fate of the world relies. Although the end of The Avengers makes it work, this increasingly tired trend that began with Michael Bay‘s Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon needs to be stopped. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen an entire city leveled in an a movie’s climactic battle over the past couple of years, but it’s been far too many.
The movie also offers a subplot of Nick trying to find a way to reconnect with his widow (Stephanie Szostak) which is complicated by the actions of his former partner which continue to make Nick look like the bad guy, the fact that Nick looks like an elderly Chinese man, and that the universe won’t allow him to come out and tell her directly who he is and what’s happened to him (a fail safe which Roy finds quite amusing).
Reynolds and Bridges have some fun cast into your basic odd couple buddy cop template. The movie allows Nick to be a complete ass, something which Reynolds excels at (and somehow always still comes off charming), and even goes too far in one scene where an irate Nick suggests the manner in which Roy’s body was violated after his death was justified. Although Parker’s role is far smaller, she manages to steal scenes with each actor while bossing the pair around.
Even though Kevin Bacon is cast in the role of the main bad guy, something he attacks with a scene-chomping slimy relish, the film’s more memorable villains are the various CGI undead whose true forms are brought to light through the use of Indian food and spices (an odd concept that’s presented as fact without ever being properly explained). The increased number of the creatures in the film’s final act gives Roy and Nick no end in targets to take down while trying to save the world from an invasion of the undead.
R.I.P.D. is one of two comic book movies hitting theaters this weekend (both of which coincidentally star Mary-Louise Parker). What the tired Red 2 lacks in energy, crazy character interaction, and insane fun, R.I.P.D. delivers in spades. It’s certainly not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but for those looking for a big, dumb, fun summer action flick they could do far worse than spending 96-minutes with the officers of the Rest In Peace Department. Despite its stars and high budget, Universal Studios seems to have largely thrown in the towel in marketing the film. Going in with relatively low expectations I found R.I.P.D. to be one of the more pleasant surprises of the summer, but even though I think the movie needs every dollar it can get at the office to earn back it’s $130 budget, I wouldn’t recommends shelling out a couple extra bucks for mostly forgettable 3D.