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R.I.P.D. arrives in a state of advanced rigor mortis. Except for an enjoyably lip-smacking, scenery-and-CGI-chewing, Old West-guy performance by Jeff Bridges, who by now must have played more Western characters than any other actor of his generation, this is a second-rate special effects-dominated 3D entry that will join several prominent would-be blockbusters that need not be mentioned on the summer junk heap. With an announced budget of $130 million, Universal will have to take this one on the chin but, on balance, the distributor and producer Neal H. Moritz will still have come out well ahead for the season on the basis of Fast & Furious 6.
A zombie movie in all but name, this jocular and cheesy adaptation by Clash of the Titans screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi of Peter M. Lenkov‘s 2001 Dark Horse comic quartet might have been better conceived as the beginning of a lower-budget, more modestly aimed franchise along the lines of the Hellboy entries. But as a major undertaking with clear sequel ambitions, there’s just not enough new and exciting here to cut it; when the brief 96-minute running time is one of its two or three only virtues, you know you’re in trouble.
If Boston was feeling left out of the wave of cinematic civic destruction that has in recent times claimed New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles, among others, Beantown now can proudly join the club, as cretins called “deados” give it quite a going-over as they stage their assault on humanity. That their plot to do so has to be one of the most cockamamie schemes ever cooked up by modern screenwriters — it has to do with the full reassembling of an ancient golden Staff of Jericho monument triggering a downpour of zombies, errr, deados, from the heavens — is not sufficiently embraced as ridiculous by director Robert Schwentke (Red). Perhaps if Mel Brooks could have been induced to make a big-screen comeback with a zombie genre send-up as a sort of companion piece to Spaceballs, we would have had something worth watching.
In fact, Brooks could have had a field day with an underplayed aspect of the basic premise. At the outset, Ryan Reynolds‘ Boston cop Nick is murdered by his partner Hayes (Kevin Bacon) over some pieces of the gold, whereupon Nick is transported to a kind of purgatory (not unlike the celestial one in Raoul Walsh‘s entertaining 1945 Jack Benny comedy The Horn Blows at Midnight) and paired with veteran Western sheriff Roy (Bridges). Sent back to Earth to pursue some justice, they appear to each other, and most of the time to the audience, as themselves, though there are momentary glimpses of how they look to unsuspecting Earthlings: Nick is seen in the guise of “an old Chinese guy” (James Hong), while the goateed and long-haired Roy has the stunning appearance of a blond bombshell (former Victoria’s Secret angel and Maxim No. 1 hot Melissa Miller). Brooks would have no doubt gone for the comedy of having the two avatars onscreen far more frequently.
The Chinese substitute prevents Nick from being recognized by his beloved wife Julie (Stephanie Szostak), who is now seeing far too much of the solicitous Hayes for his liking; for his part, Roy has long since become accustomed to turning heads as a busty babe. The only way the two former lawmen can put the deados out of business is to shoot them in the head using special, ultra-large handguns provided by the proctor, so Men in Black bounces around one’s memory bank as the guys go around blowing away weird and deformed-looking members of the undead ilk while trying to figure out what the gold puzzle is all about.
How R.I.P.D. otherwise spends its time is on wearily familiar old pro/young hotshot macho competitiveness, with Roy holding his frontier experience over the 21st century neophyte and the latter occasionally surprising the graybeard with his abilities. Bridges rolls the words around in his mouth in all sorts of juicy permutations to fairly amusing effect, just as he gets some decent mileage out of how Roy still hasn’t really gotten over the manner of his death, having been eaten by coyotes, his bones been carried off hither and yon. But this is not the stuff of which blockbuster box office returns are made.
On the technical side, there’s nothing new here, nor can the film measure up to what’s been done visually in this summer’s expensive commercial belly flops. The 3D here is surpassingly unimpressive and sometimes a distraction.
Opens: July 19 (Universal)
Production: Original Film, Dark Horse Entertainment
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Bacon, Mary-Louise Parker, Stephanie Szostak, Robert Knepper, James Hong, Marisa Miller, Mike O’Malley, Devin Ratray
Director: Robert Schwentke
Screenwriters: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi, story by David Dobkin, Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi, based on the Dark Horse comic created by Peter M. Lenkov
Producers: Neal H. Moritz, Mike Richardson, Michael Fottrell
Executive producers: Ori Marmur, Ryan Reynolds, Jonathon Komack Martin, David Dobkin, Keith Goldberg, Peter M. Lenkov
Director of photography: Alwin Kuchler
Production designer: Alec Hammond
Costume designer: Susan Lyall
Editor: Mark Helfrich
Music: Christophe Beck
PG-13 rating, 96 minutes
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