And there goes Boston. It’s another week in this grinding summer movie season, and another major city is being destroyed on screen in a 9/11-style maelstrom of crumbling concrete and fiery doom. I don’t know what’s worse – that recent comic-book films rely so heavily on this painful imagery, or that the most a character can say about it is a couple of weak expletives.

This time, the culprit is R.I.P.D., a movie whose title is annoying to type and whose story is even more tiresome to watch. Just when I thought that last week’s Pacific Rim was heralding a positive shift in this year’s blockbusters, we get a stunningly boring comic-book adaptation whose only real feature is its short runtime – a relatively merciful 96 minutes.  You might think this film looks fun – after all, it has Jeff Bridges being cranky! If so, you’d be very, very wrong.

The film follows Nick (Ryan Reynolds), a noble-enough Boston detective who’s toeing the line of corruption. He and his partner Hayes (Kevin Bacon) found some mysterious gold pieces during a recent drug bust, and are toying with cashing it in rather than checking it into evidence. Just when Nick decides to come clean, Hayes kills him during a raid to cover up the deception, and Nick is sucked up into the glowing whirlwind of the Great Beyond.

Nick’s story isn't over, though (I wish), and he discovers he’s been recruited into the Rest In Peace Department, a force of dead police officers who are tasked with keeping difficult spirits dead. This involves tracking down dead people (now disfigured demons) disguised as humans, and locking them up. Or, in the case of every demon the main characters encounter, shooting them with magic bullets and erasing them from existence. Seems like the afterlife might have a police brutality problem.

To humans, the leads appear as a lingerie model and an elderly Chinese man. Funny, right?
To humans, the leads appear as a lingerie model and an elderly Chinese man. Funny, right?

The actual plot involves Nick being paired with a grouchy Wild West lawman named Roy (Jeff Bridges), and together the two of them set out to stop a group of demons from releasing all the dead from the R.I.P.D. prison and taking over the world.

I’d go into more detail about the plot, but for a comic-book film – which are usually heavy on plot and light on everything else – this film has surprisingly little. That’s especially surprising, since there’s a scene where exposition is literally delivered via a golden tube. The film just consists of the characters investigating a single case. Couldn't we have done this on a special undead episode of Law and Order?

I suppose I should be grateful I didn't have to sit through more. I won’t bore you with a dissection of all the many holes and inconsistencies in the already thin story, so let’s look at the performances. Ryan Reynolds, for example, alternates between looking confused about the otherworldly events his character is experiencing, and confused about how he ended up in such an awful movie.

Reynolds does have a few chances to look sad: the film makes whiplash-inducing shifts into melodramatic scenes about his dead character trying to reach out to his wife (the otherwise lovely Stephanie Szostak). But these sections only reinforce how hopelessly torn R.I.P.D. is between being a darkly funny comic-book movie and a mournful commentary on loss. The film can’t get either tone right, and so we’re left with a shambling mess that wouldn’t look out of place alongside its rotting villains.

Reynolds looks focused here - maybe he's trying to forget about being cast?
Reynolds looks focused here - maybe he's trying to forget about being cast?

Even a powerhouse player like Bridges can’t improve the experience. Bridges’ Western gunslinger has some lines worth a few chuckles, but those are only the jokes you can parse out from a muffled vocal performance that sounds like his tongue swelled up in protest of this mediocre script.

And a word about the effects. This film proves how the ratio between money spent and effects delivered is remarkably inconsistent. We have a film here that Universal reportedly dropped $130 million to make, and yet the CGI looks worse than what some film student could whip up on their laptop.

The grade-school effects were only compounded by the fact that with a screen full of dead (and apparently invulnerable) characters, most of the action scenes are just a riot of computer-generated blobs bouncing around like pinballs. They ricochet off buildings and smash each other with large objects. Had the script been performed by sock puppets, I think I would have been more entertained.

My brief research indicates that R.I.P.D. is based on a mini-series from Dark Horse comics that’s been described as a fun blend of campy humour and creepy mythology. This movie is neither of those things – at its best, it’s a lukewarm rip-off of Men in Black and Hellboy, and at its worst, it’s a puddle of half-baked emotional nonsense.  R.I.P.D. gets one star out of four.

What did you think of R.I.P.D.? Was it just a bit of harmless fun, or was it 96 minutes that you won’t get back? Join the discussion in the comments section, and if you liked this review, share it with your friends and followers! You can also browse through other recent reviews here:


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