R.I.P.D. is D.O.A.
1.5 stars (out of four)
As R.I.P.D. unfolds on the screen before us, one can’t help but wonder what the heck Jeff Bridges is doing there.
Playing long-deceased 19th-century marshal Roy Pulsifer, he’s partnered with freshly dead partner, Boston cop Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds), a pair of ghost busters in the Rest In Peace Department whose job is to track down the dead who are masquerading as the living to avoid judgment day. They’re called “dead-o’s” (though deadbeats might have been funnier).
The idle thought nags again and again: why is a character actor of Bridge’s pedigree slumming it in a CGI-bloated, 3D-infused paranormal buddy comedy like R.I.P.D.?
Does Bridges have tax problems on the scale of Nicolas Cage, who has taken a paycheque from all sorts of dubious movies in recent years?
Based on the 1999 comic book by Peter Lenkov, R.I.P.D. will face the eventual comparison with the Men in Black franchise — with ghosts instead of extraterrestrials as the main menace. Unlike M.I.B., R.I.P.D. is unlikely to spawn a series of successful sequels.
The story opens with Walker’s voice-over: “You think you’ve had a bad day at work. I think I’ve got you beat,” as Pulsifer and Walker deal with a wily Fat Elvis dead-o, who gives them the finger and says “thank you very much” before making good his getaway.
Flashback three or four days earlier and we see Walker, in the course of busting a meth lab, gunned down by his partner, Bobby, all because he wants to return some gold the two swiped in an earlier bust.
Walker is immediately beamed up to a CGI funnel cloud, where his new ghost-busting job — as penance — awaits.
As it turns out, the gold is crucial to the plot, set to become part of something called the Staff of Jericho, which will somehow reverse the natural order of things, returning the dead to Earth and — natch — dooming humankind. (Cue eyes rolling heavenward.)
To their credit, the oddball partners play things relatively straight. Bridges, delivering dialogue as if his cheeks are stuffed with chewing tobacco, gamely tries to breathe life into Pulsifer’s character, though it takes a while to warm to him.
Reynolds plays Walker with doe-eyed seriousness as a man mourning his own death and losing the love of his lie, Julia (Stephanie Szostak). Awkward at first, the interplay between the Pulsifer and Walker actually improves as the film progresses.
Mary-Louise Parker is wonderfully wry as the officious Proctor who oversees the ghost hunters, and Kevin Bacon, as the villainous Bobby, is as reliable as ever.
There are a couple of decent laughs in the avatars — a buxom blond and an old Chinese guy — that the two officers appear as in the living world.
Director Robert Schwentke (RED, Flightplan) does a fine job of handling the action sequences, and the 3D actually works. But some of the CGI stuff, especially the dead-o’s, are overblown and silly. Then there’s the painfully stupid plot, which makes the film, though barely more than 90 minutes, feel much longer.
The likeliest reaction from the audience? Let’s spell it out: R.I.P.D. O.F.F.
Bruce DeMara is a syndicated Toronto Star movie critic.