In a season of retreads, reboots and adaptations, “R.I.P.D.” is nearly epic in its mediocrity. When historians look back at this by-the-numbers era of studio summer blockbusters, they may well point to this film as being notably iconic in its lack of original ideas, its staggering predictability and its thorough blandness.
“R.I.P.D.” feels like the result of a process in which the screenplay was skipped entirely, replaced instead by a binder full of studio notes which was somehow given to the cast and crew and brought to the big screen.
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The credits claim that Phil Hay and Matt Mandredi, with a story assist from David Dobkin, are adapting the comic book by Peter M. Lenkov, but viewers with a nose for leftovers will detect a stew of familiar flavors.
The movie cobbles together any number of past hits — “Ghost,” “Ghostbusters,” “Men in Black,” “Beetlejuice,” with Jeff Bridges lazily reprising bits of his “True Grit” performance for good measure — and the results feel rote and trite, like a mid-1980s NBC pilot designed to take the 9:00 hour between “Misfits of Science” and “Manimal.”
Ryan Reynolds stars as Boston cop Nick; he and partner Hayes (Kevin Bacon) have just stolen some chunks of gold from a drug dealer they arrested, but Nick is having second thoughts. Subsequently, when the two of them are raiding a meth dealer’s warehouse, Hayes shoots Nick in the face with one of the bad guy’s guns. (Thanks to the PG-13 rating, this shooting and every other one in the film occur without one drop of blood being spilled.)
Nick ascends into the afterlife, but since he’s got the gold robbery on his conscience, heavenly desk-jockey Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker) offers Nick the chance to improve his Judgment Day odds by spending 100 years on the R.I.P.D., an angelic department dedicated to tracking down “dead-os” who are malingering on earth and dispatching them to the great beyond.
In true cop-show fashion, Nick immediately despises his new partner, former Old West sheriff Roy (Bridges). Their first stop back on earth is Nick’s funeral, but when the dead cop tries communicating with his widow (Stephanie Szostak), he learns that the living see him as an elderly Chinese man (legendary character actor James Hong) while everyone perceives Roy as a curvy blonde (Marisa Miller).
The audience, however, perceives this gag as not all that funny the first time, and even less so the dozen-plus times it’s reprised.
Turns out the gold chunks are part of a mystical whatchamacallit that will bring legions of the dead back to earth, and Nick and Roy are the only ones who can stop it, and yadda yadda apocalypse.
Director Robert Schwentke (“Red,” “The Time Travelers Wife”) finds a few moments of visual dazzle, mostly involving the afterlife and the tunnel through which one arrives there, but he’s stacked the movie with the same computer-generated beasties and chase scenes we’ve seen a million times.
This crushing familiarity also extends to the performances, whereby talented actors are reduced to finding one note and playing it ad infinitum over the film’s 96-minutes-that-feel-like-180 running time.
Perhaps the most crushed by the goings-on is the normally affable Reynolds, who has a gift for smart-ass dialogue. Here, the light in his eyes seems to have been extinguished, resulting in a performance that has all the enthusiasm of a hostage reading a political manifesto written by his captors.
Everything wraps up with an ending that portends a sequel, but most viewers will forget “R.I.P.D.” at approximately the moment they dispose of their empty soda cups in the lobby.