“R.I.P.D.” is a terrific movie. It has a smaller scale than some of the big-budget action pictures we’ve been seeing—smaller than a “Transformers” or an “Iron Man” or a “Lone Ranger.” But it does have impressive special effects and it does range around over the city of Boston and through the police station at the entrance to Heaven.
It does that ranging around as it follows Roy (Jeff Bridges) and Nick (Ryan Reynolds) as they fight to save the world from an apocalypse. Does that sound like cause enough? The story is better than average for action pictures, and the supporting cast includes Hollywood legend Kevin Bacon, age-less sex symbol Mary Louise Parker, and the sympathetic Stephanie Szostak, whose character ads weight to the motivations of Nick and of the audience.
The film has been made, by Robert Schwentke (who gave us “The Time-Traveler’s Wife”), with a ton of imagination. The movie has some catch phrases—my favorite is what now deathless Western “Lawman” Roy says about facing down pistol-toting enemies in the streets: “I invented this.” And, oh yeah, since Bridges is in the movie and is playing a cowboy type, there’s comedy in “R.I.P.D.” Quite a bit of it.
Schwentke has used the lesser scale to great effect, of course. He (and Parker) made “RED,” three years ago and had one of the happiest surprise hits of the year. Ironically, that movie’s sequel, “RED 2” was released on the same day as “R.I.P.D.” Parker reprised her role and so appeared in both the action movies released this last weekend.
But “R.I.P.D.” is in some ways more like “Men in Black” than it is like the movie about retired government hit men. A cop who dies in a state of sin may be drafted by the “rest in peace division” of the bureaucracy associated with the afterlife. Late in his life, Nick went along with his crooked partner, Hayes (Bacon), in taking from a crime scene a little gold from some broken antique.
When Nick’s romance with his wife Julia (Szostak) rights him morally, he tells Hayes he is going to turn the gold in to the Police impound office. So Hayes, who wants the gold because he knows what the antique was, waits until his partner is involved in a shoot-out and then kills him.
Nick drifts up into the clouds where he meets the powder-faced RIPD Proctor (Parker), who wears white go-go boots to keep Nick’s new partner, Buffalo-Bill look-alike Roy, from staring at her ankles. She’s flirting. Roy’s nineteenth century up-bringing has prepared him to consider a glance at ankles as a sort of intimacy.
Roy shows Nick that the dead cannot appear to the living in their own forms. Nick will look like James Hong, a veteran Chinese-American actor, while Roy looks like a curvy thirty-five year-old woman. Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” plays in the heads of men whenever Roy’s Earth form walks by. What will the new guy and Wild Bill be doing on Earth in these forms?
Hunting down “deaders,” evil humans who have escaped on their way to Hell and are now haunting the globe, their cartoonish moral grotestquery disguised, as they reassemble “The Golden Scepter.” When it is back together, it will generate a passageway between Earth and Hell that will bring the apocalypse to us.
Nick tries to communicate with Julia, who turns his gold over to the evil Hayes. And he and Roy have some success snagging some fugitives, gathering up some gold hunks, and identifying the evil guys’ plan.
But the deaders use a clever ruse to recover the antique fragments at RIPD H.Q. And then the stories race to the finish—the scepter is being reassembled; Hayes is having the puzzled Julia brought to the scene; and Roy and Nick are driving hell-bent-for-leather across the fast-collapsing city to try to forestall the end of the world.
All of this is fun. Much of it is funny. Much is exhilarating. There is real suspense. The pace is superior. And just about all of the actors are in top form. What more could a moviegoer want?
Scale? You want this to be bigger, louder, and longer? Well, then your aesthetic and mine are at odds. “R.I.P.D.” is all the popcorn movie I want this summer, and a little more. But not too much.