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R.I.P.D.: Almost Dead on Arrival

It was with cautious optimism that I went to see R.I.P.D.. I’m not normally one for action movies -- which, in the age of Transformers, have become heavy on the explosions and light on the everything else. But, R.I.P.D. does have a few things going for it. It stars Jeff Bridges and it has an intriguing premise, based on a comic book by Peter M. Lenkov. It also does not feature a talking snail… like Ryan Reynolds’ other movie that’s opening this weekend.

I ended up finding most of the film pretty entertaining. R.I.P.D. won’t become a classic of either the action or sci-fi genres, but it provides enough excitement and laughs to justify its ticket price.

Reynolds plays Nick, a Boston cop who recently got his hands a little dirty when he and his partner Hayes (Kevin Bacon) stole some gold from a group of criminals they busted. Despite this momentary lapse in morality, Nick is a good guy who’s just trying to find a way to make a better life for himself and his wife, Julia (Stephanie Szostak). Early in the film, Nick, Hayes and the rest of the Boston PD are called to a warehouse, where a wanted offender is hiding out. For some reason the warehouse is also on fire (or maybe just filled with explosions, it was hard to tell). In the ensuing chaos and fighting, Nick is shot and killed.

In one of R.I.P.D. cooler sequences, everything around the now-dead Nick pauses, as he exits the warehouse in a daze and slowly floats up to heaven, where he is promptly deposited in an office in front of Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker), the chief of the R.I.P.D., or Rest in Peace Department, heaven’s police squad. She knows all about Nick’s transgression with the gold, so she proposes a deal: if Nick agrees to join the R.I.P.D., she’ll put in a good word for him with the Big Guy when Nick’s judgment day comes. Nick agrees, and Proctor whisks him off to R.I.P.D. headquarters.

Heaven’s police force serves one purpose: they return to Earth to find deados, or deceased souls who have refused to meet their maker. Deados look like ordinary people, but are identifiable by their “soul stank” which over time erodes the environment around them. Deados can also be “popped,” or made to reveal their true form, by being forced to smell or ingest Indian food. This seems like some sort of commentary on the taste of curry vindaloo, but the joke ends up feeling pretty heavy-handed. Anyway, once deados are popped, they turn into CGI-ed monsters, often with protruding bellies or extra body parts.

Proctor explains all this to Nick before introducing him to his new partner, Ray (Bridges). It becomes immediately clear at this point that Bridges will take command over the rest of the movie, and, true to form, Reynolds kind of just follows along and fails at attempting to pull his own weight. R.I.P.D. marks the fourth movie in which Reynolds has played a comic book hero (Blade: Trinity, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Green Lantern are the other three) and he’s never been very good at it. Green Lantern, in which Reynolds played the lead, was a particularly poor performance. Reynolds just has a face and demeanor that are most suited for mediocre romantic comedies like The Proposal and Definitely, Maybe. When he tries to play emotions other than lovey-dovey or humorously irritated, it just comes off as foolish. This becomes especially apparent when Reynolds is acting opposite Bridges, who kicks ass as Ray.

Ray is a cowboy from the 1800s who’s been with the R.I.P.D. ever since his untimely demise. He’s cantankerous, bullying, prideful and funny as hell. Ray’s constant allusions to the fact that his body was eaten by coyotes after his death are a highlight of the film, as is the self-pitying dirge he comes up with to lament his own passing. It’s wonderful to watch Bridges, complete with southern accent, chew the scenery as though he hasn’t been fed in days.

Unfortunately, despite all of R.I.P.D.’s compelling elements, the movie just doesn’t come together in the end. The film’s main action revolves around stopping one particular deado from assembling an ancient artifact that would allow all the dead to return to Earth. This plot is terribly weak, and is created through several bits of too convenient elements that aren’t satisfactorily explained. The film’s third act is also a disappointing regression to the typical explosions-and-car-chases scenario that has been drained of any possible excitement or enthusiasm at this point.

I wish R.I.P.D. had spent more time defining its version of heaven, and had given the audience a more detailed look into the film’s universe. The most compelling part of any sci-fi movie, after all, isn’t the explosions. It’s the mythology. Having Mary-Louise Parker (who is also starring in RED 2 this weekend, the franchise launched by R.I.P.D.'s director Robert Schwentke) serve as heaven’s gatekeeper is definitely an inspired first step. But without further exploration of its own storylines, R.I.P.D. is just another overblown, underthought 3D extravaganza.

Get showtimes and tickets for this movie from Fandango.

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