'R.I.P.D.': Bridges' fans won't be disappointed
By Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
Even if it wasn't already based on a graphic novel, "R.I.P.D." would not strike one as an entirely original concept. One can imagine a pitch meeting in which an eager young creative type enthusiastically exclaims, "It's 'Men in Black,' only the men are DEAD, and instead of aliens they track down, um, BAD dead people!"
And, yeah, the idea is just that simple and just that silly. But the execution is pretty lively, irreverent, visually engaging, and every now and then almost actually witty. As mindless entertainments go, you could do a lot worse. The movie begins with Nick (Ryan Reynolds), a Boston cop flirting with corruption, making some promises to his wife, Julia (Stephanie Szostak), and then revealing his second thoughts about a secret stash of gold with his partner Hayes (Kevin Bacon). This doesn't go down well with Hayes, who uses a raid as an excuse to take Nick out. As in out of this mortal coil.
Once dead, Nick walks through a frozen tableau of earthly destruction (very impressive in 3-D, which is here super-obvious in the grand contemporary tradition of "Drive Angry" and "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance") before being taken to an assignment in the next world: a shot at redemption as an officer in the Rest in Peace Department, an agency made up of deceased cops from all eras. Nick's orientation officer is a no-nonsense black-skirted Fresca-drinker named Proctor, and his partner is Roy, an Old West relic played with cartoonish glee by Jeff Bridges, doing a very broad variant of his ornery Rooster Cogburn character in the Coen brothers' great "True Grit."
The mechanics of undead policing get laid out in near-vertiginous detail, some of which pays off with big laughs, as in the nature of undead Nick and Roy's earthly avatars, which makes for a nice running joke. The storyline itself is pretty rote. Conveniently enough, there is more to Bacon's character than meets the eye, and he's the driving force behind an evil dead plot to bring the finale of "Ghostbusters" to the Boston area, only without the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
The derivative stuff isn't too bothersome given the brisk pacing and the fact that the pastiche nature of the movie is pretty much in effect from the get-go. It really helps that the cast has fun with it. Parker gives an exceptionally droll and understatedly sexy performance, and Bacon is as game as he's ever been. Reynolds here uses his vanilla quality to good effect: It helps put across his befuddlement with his afterlife situation to better effect than a quirkier actor might have been compelled to manage. As for the quirk, it turns up in sometimes unexpected ways, as in a surprisingly effective Steely Dan joke. That's not the sort of thing you see even in the most ostensibly respectable summer blockbuster. It helps make "R.I.P.D." a better goof than its trailers actually suggest. And if you're a Bridges fan, it's a must.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.