Nothing short of wiping their memories with a real-life neuralizer is going to convince moviegoers that the supernatural buddy-cop comedy R.I.P.D. is anything more than a thinly disguised Men In Black ripoff. Yes, the two films are based on entirely different comic-book series, but all that proves is that somewhere along the way, during the late-’90s conception of this new property or during its transport from page to screen, someone realized that minor tweaks could be made to a winning formula. Consider the facts: An acronym-monikered agency, mired in bureaucracy and hidden from the public, unleashes mismatched officers—one a grizzled veteran, the other a dynamic rookie—onto the streets of a major city, where they round up strange creatures masquerading as humans. But wait, the R.I.P.D. team might protest, there are some differences! The illegal aliens, for example, aren’t aliens at all, but fugitive souls who have escaped judgment and returned to Earth to wreak havoc. Here, the young cop is pokerfaced, and the old one is a cutup. And they’re both white! And neither wears sunglasses!
Proving yet again that only his physique qualifies him for blockbuster duty, Ryan Reynolds looks eternally bored playing the reluctant hero, a Boston cop who catches some friendly (and fatal) fire from crooked partner Kevin Bacon. After wandering through a freeze-frame tableau of his moment of death—a pretty cool sight, truth be told—the slain officer is yanked skyward and plunked down at the desk of snarky, celestial commissioner Mary-Louise Parker. Faced with the choice between instant afterlife sentencing and joining the Rest In Peace Department to pay off some karmic debt, Reynolds opts for the latter and is promptly paired off with a salty 19th century lawman (Jeff Bridges, putting a dopey but not altogether unlikable spin on Rooster Cogburn). When not trading insults, this odd couple trades fire with the “deados” during weightless action scenes that combine the whip-pan camerawork of an arcade shooter with the rubbery, cartoonish CGI of a Stephen Chow movie. Much as he’d rather be ghosting with his widowed wife (Stephanie Szostak), Reynolds starts chasing leads; can he learn to trust his new partner long enough to blow the lid off an undead conspiracy?
Like the 1997 mega-hit it constantly, unflatteringly resembles, R.I.P.D. fares best when getting into the humorous nitty-gritty of its world: an HQ intercom system that plays nothing but Steely Dan, a culinary variation on the Replicant test, etc. Speaking of Blade Runner, James Hong plays Reynolds' undercover disguise in a cameo; a gag lifted from Heaven Can Wait finds the DOA detectives not looking like themselves to the living. (Here and there, Bridges has great fun getting into the character of his avatar, the Amazonian supermodel Marisa Miller.) This is far and away the movie’s most fruitful concept, but director Robert Schwentke (Red) basically wastes it, leaning on the supposed hilarity of an old Chinese man kicking it with a blonde goddess. Why not play instead with the comic frustration of essentially being trapped in someone else’s body? Oh, right. Because Men In Black didn’t do that.