There’s usually a certain pattern in bad comedy sets — some muffled laughter and pity claps in the beginning to inspire confidence, but when the cliched jokes and dull punchlines start to pile up, the audience only stays to watch the set’s inevitable demise. “R.I.P.D.,” like an unfunny standup comedian, is a film that progressively gets worse and is ridiculous instead of entertaining. The result is a Razzie favorite in which everything manages to go wrong.
Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds) is a Boston police officer who gets shot by his partner, Bobby Hayes (Kevin Bacon), and is transported to a purgatory world where he is obligated to join the R.I.P.D. — an organization of deceased police officers set to remove the dead spirits living on earth (called “deados”) who have escaped the afterlife and transform into grotesque monsters if exposed to certain kinds of food. He partners up with former Civil War-era marshal Roy Pulsipher (Jeff Bridges). In typical buddy-cop fashion, the two spend most of the time bickering. The problem, however, is that the relationship between the partners remains artificial and static throughout the film. Roy is a one-dimensional Wild West marshal obsessed with his hat and women’s ankles, and Nick, while having a circumstance that creates the most obvious pathos imaginable, is uninteresting and doesn’t have a character arc.
In the living world, they keep their internal consciousnesses but have human avatars. Nick becomes an old Chinese man (James Hong), and Roy is a blonde supermodel (Marisa Miller) — and you better believe they milked as many jokes as possible from this incongruous pairing in the film’s 90-minute span. Nick tries to talk to his wife during his own funeral, much to the bewilderment of the participants, and nearly every guy drools over Roy’s alluring avatar, only to be bitterly rejected.
While these scenes may provide some cheap situational humor, they conflict with the internal logic of the universe. For the audience to suspend their disbelief, which is especially important in science fiction, the fictional aspects need to comprehensible by actually making sense. The primary fictional entity in this film is the department itself, and the film abandons any training, procedures and logistics whatsoever in the R.I.P.D. When the officers get to freely interact with whomever in the world, the plot inconsistencies start to accumulate, and the viewers will quickly lose their immersion in this world.
The preposterousness of the story doesn’t stop there. The physical invincibility of the cops — Nick falls off a 30-story building without a scratch on his body — eliminates virtually all stakes in the action scenes and makes the already uninspiring car chases and shootouts even more irrelevant. However, the officers still hide from the deados’ gunshots, and the humans are continually oblivious to the supernatural creatures even when we see one jumping off of skyscrapers in the beginning of the film. As the movie progresses, it doesn’t attempt to mitigate any of these logical disparities as it reaches higher levels of absurdity.
“R.I.P.D.” is “Men in Black” if you remove the chemistry between the partners and any pretense of logic involved in the plot. This movie was originally a script that, like the deados, should have been stamped dead on arrival but, instead, had been put into production by a studio head with the help of movie stars willing to compromise their careers (I’m looking at you, Jeff Bridges). It’s just a shame we don’t have a department dedicated to preventing Hollywood executives from green-lighting soulless projects.