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updated: 7/19/2013 5:16 PM

'R.I.P.D' kills off comic potential

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  • Dead lawman Roy (Jeff Bridges) and Nick (Ryan Reynolds) seek out bad souls back on earth in "R.I.P.D."

    Dead lawman Roy (Jeff Bridges) and Nick (Ryan Reynolds) seek out bad souls back on earth in "R.I.P.D."

By Stephanie Merry
The Washington Post

I can't be the only one who thought the concept for "R.I.P.D." sounded sort of promising, and not just because it's one of the few non-sequels this summer. Think of it as "Ghost" meets "Men in Black," this tale of a recently deceased cop recruited to the Rest in Peace Department and partnered with a gunslinging Wild West lawman. The mismatched pair is tasked with capturing rotting spirits who roam the earth, but the rookie is more interested in avenging his murder and communicating with his beloved wife.

You can skip the "I told you so." I admit it: I was wrong. The comic book-based "R.I.P.D." is a dud that squanders a decent cast and succeeds neither as the comedy nor the action film it purports to be.

Ryan Reynolds plays Nick, the newbie, and Jeff Bridges takes the role of his partner, Roy. They meet when Nick is sucked into a CGI vortex just after his evil partner, Bobby (Kevin Bacon, playing the caricature of a villain), offs him. Up until this point -- meaning the first few minutes of the movie -- Reynolds does what he does best, which is toss off sardonic one-liners.

But as soon as Nick meets his new partner, it's clear this is going to be the Roy Show. The problem is that Roy is not nearly as funny as the movie's writers think he is. Most of the time, he simply laments how coyotes and vultures snacked on his dead body and pulled his bones into a cave after he bit the dust back in the 1800s. Talk about a laugh riot.

There is also some sense that director Robert Schwentke told Bridges to do an imitation of himself portraying Rooster Cogburn in "True Grit." With the exception of the eye patch, the resemblance is uncanny, as is the garbled lilt.

The biggest running gag involves Nick and Roy's human avatars, as the undead officers must be disguised as real people while visiting earth. So Nick looks like an elderly Asian man (played by James Hong) and Roy is Victoria's Secret model Marisa Miller. This revelation is somewhat amusing the first go-round, when a couple of guys whistle at Roy. But by the time he yells at a man about female objectification, the comedy has drained out of the scenario.

The afterlife turns out to be a bureaucratic nightmare, complete with an Eternal Affairs department and what amounts to a human resources orientation leader, played by Mary-Louise Parker. The barely clever wordplay and heaven-sent red tape is the peak of the film's humor.

Nick and Roy spend much of the movie chasing and fighting computer-generated deados, but suspense disappears once it's clear the two protagonists are very nearly invincible. They fly off buildings and get squashed by buses, but manage to immediately rebound.

The sliver of a chance the pair could die (again) isn't enough to get an audience invested in their fates. In fact, if Roy had disappeared, the movie might have been so much more enjoyable. Maybe those coyotes had the right idea.

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