Dead Men in Black 

I wish I could disagree with the negative critical consensus that's massed around R.I.P.D., but the film is as misshapen and misbegotten as everyone says it is. It is an example of the worst kind of Hollywood product — the kind that, once it's over, is almost impossible to care about one way or the other. And since R.I.P.D. relies so heavily on clichés as its basic mode of communication, it dies the death of a thousand cuts well before its closing credits.

Ryan Reynolds, who seems to be silently begging the audience to look away during his many close-ups, stars as a corrupt cop killed in the line of duty by his more corrupt partner (Kevin Bacon, providing Jiffy Pop villainy). After he's sucked through a hole in the sky and into some kind of afterlife waiting room, Reynolds is given the option to improve his chances on Judgment Day by spending the next century chasing down the rotten undead souls hiding out on Earth. Naturally, he's paired with a crusty, unconventional old maverick (Jeff Bridges) from the Wild West who's never worked with anyone else before, dagnabit! Will they work out their generational differences in time to solve a mystery that saves humanity from a trans-dimensional portal that, if opened, threatens to end life on Earth as we know it?

Of course they will. But you knew that.

R.I.P.D. is more than merely derivative, though; it's an instantly recognizable zombie/replicant of a familiar, far superior property. Anyone with basic cable — indeed, anyone who has seen more than eight movies in his or her life — will quickly notice that R.I.P.D. steals almost everything it can from a certain mega-blockbuster franchise about extraterrestrial threats to the planet that paired the Fresh Prince with noted abolitionist Senator Thaddeus Stevens.

Yet, instead of aping that franchise's light touch, R.I.P.D. tries to be all things to everyone: part zany buddy-comedy, part mystery, and part action thriller, with a pinch of domestic drama thrown in for luck. But it's all been said before. And the parade of clichés — the girl as bait, the villain who wants to get caught, etc. — grows more and more worrisome. If the filmmakers haven't done anything interesting with these clichés before the obligatory grand finale, what are the chances that they'll do anything different at the end?

There are signs of life, however. Bridges, his jaw packed with chaw, hints at some of the rascally perversions of an undead lawman who appears to normal people as a supermodel in a gold lamé miniskirt. He delivers a strangely poetic line ("One of them coyotes, he made love to my skull") with what seems like the proper amount of incredulous sorrow. There's also lots of unpredictable camera movement; at any moment, the image is liable to flip upside-down, boomerang into the sky, or swan-dive down an elevator shaft.

But both Bridges' performance and the anything-goes camera work reek of desperation. It's tough to watch, and, frankly, I'm too old for this ... kind of thing.

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Rated PG-13 · 96 min. · 2013
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Director: Robert Schwentke
Writer: Phil Hay
Producer: Neal H. Moritz, Mike Richardson and Michael Fottrell
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Bacon, Mary-Louise Parker and Stephanie Szostak


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