As summer enters its third act and Hollywood is more or less finished counting the biggest receipts from all its May/June tentpole release front-loading, what can be said about a film that finds itself less than lovingly dumped into theaters a mere hour after its press screening wraps up, on Comic-Con weekend when its target audience in one of the country's largest population centers is otherwise occupied? If what can be said is that it's not the full-on garbage heap those red flags led you to assume it would be, then welcome to R.I.P.D.
It stands for Rest In Peace Department, a kind of heavenly purgatory for dead cops needing to work off their outstanding tickets with the afterlife's Ultimate Judgment, and it's where recently deceased officer Nick (Ryan Reynolds) finds himself, paired with 19th century lawman Roycephus (Jeff Bridges, working his True Grit drawl like he's mugging for that film's gag reel, offers, "It was considered a very sexy name at the time.") Together, disguised as a Chinese man (84-year-old screen veteran James Hong, Flower Drum Song) and a voluptuous blonde (Victoria's Secret model Marissa Miller), these mismatched partners hunt for "Deados," dead souls that still live on Earth. Additionally, they have to find Nick's killer, comfort his grieving wife (Stephanie Szostak), and figure out who's responsible for building something called The Tower of Jericho, a reverse portal that will take the afterlife's damned and spit them back out into Earths's still-living population.
That's a lot of stuff. And if this were an ambitious film, if it had been one of those early summer tentpoles, it would be an hour longer than its quick 90 minutes, padded with detours and digressions. But somewhere between shooting and projecting everything but rote plot beats has been chopped away (including much of whatever performance Ryan Reynolds was trying to give). The original script probably looks radically different and it can be assumed that director Robert Schwentke doesn't have a Scorsese-level say in the final product. This is what filmmaking by committee looks like: stripped of personality not borrowed from other films and reduced to plot, some movement, some effects, some wisecracks, The End. At one point, the trailer-ready expression "Let's do this!" rears its head (for the fifth or sixth time in a film this summer alone, by the way), spoken by a Deado to cue the audience to respond excitedly for whatever action is about to go down. Then there's action, the kind that weighs and conveys nothing. It's over before you know it and you'll forget it right away.
But again, it's still not the worst movie of the summer. Grown Ups 2 already exists. Bridges seems to be having fun, following the Nicolas Cage model and taking time off from being "Academy Award Winner Jeff Bridges," his seen-it-all cowboy more charming than necessary. And the movie's lack of pretense to being anything more than future filler on cable channels more or less begs for it to be let off the hook. It's bad, just not the kind of monument to badness that would keep it on anyone's mind for longer than it takes to walk back to the parking lot after the credit crawl. In other words, it doesn't deserve to be sent to movie Hell. Purgatory, on the other hand...