With Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Bacon, Mary-Louise Parker, Stephanie Szostak. Written by Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi. Directed by Robert Schwentke. Rated PG-13 for violence, sci-fi/fantasy action, some sensuality, and language including sex references. 96 minutes.
Yes, it’s another buddy cop movie set in Boston and another movie where people with supernatural powers fight each other while destroying the downtown of a major city. Still, R.I.P.D. turns out to be unexpectedly fun and entertaining. It won’t win any awards for originality, especially as it races down the well-worn path of movies like “Men in Black” and “Ghostbusters,” but it’s a fast ride.
Nick (Ryan Reynolds) is a Boston cop who loves his wife Julia (Stephanie Szostak) and does his job. He and his partner Hayes (Kevin Bacon) have picked up a little bonus after their latest bust, but Nick is having second thoughts. Given the premise of the movie it’s not a surprise when, shortly thereafter, Nick is dead and finds himself drafted into the “Rest in Peace Department.” As his boss Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker) makes clear, it’s either do the job or face final judgment and, at the moment, the latter isn’t looking like a good deal for Nick.
Soon he has a new partner, a 19th century lawman named Roy (Jeff Bridges) who calls him “Rook” for “rookie.” It’s the crusty old-timer and the new guy and they’re going to have to learn how to get along. Where do they come up with these ideas? Their job is to track down the “dead-os,” dead spirits who have decided to remain on Earth contributing to evil-doings here rather than face eternity.
In terms of plot you can probably guess where this is going. Nick tries to communicate with Julia, who sees him as a Chinese grandfather played by veteran character actor James Hong. Roy’s “avatar” also turns out to be hilariously inappropriate. It seems that the “dead-os” are plotting something truly evil, and Nick and Roy must combine their unorthodox methods to try and save the day.
It takes a long while to get used to Bridges here. He hams it up as the old lawman who prefers to work alone as if this was really a Clint Eastwood movie. Eventually, though, his character seems to work, especially once he stops putting down Nick. Reynolds gets to play the part straight since he’s essentially our representative to this odd afterlife, seeing it all for the first time. As with “Men in Black,” the appeal of the comedy comes from seeing just how goofy and weird their suspects turn out to be. When they are exposed to cumin, a spice used in Indian cooking, their true forms are revealed and they’re not pretty.
The women, alas, have less to do. Szostak gets to look sad for most of her screen time, while Parker–who gets to carry on in high action-comedy style in the just-released “Red 2”–is more buttoned-down here. She’s the boss who delivers unpleasant news to Roy and Nick. It doesn’t give her much to play with.
“R.I.P.D.” is disposable entertainment, but unlike “Pacific Rim” you can actually follow the action and unlike “The Heat” you can actually like and respect the characters and get to see a bit of Boston. It’s the sort of movie that, if the air conditioning is working and the popcorn is handy, can provide a nice way to beat the heat.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He teaches at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.