Now that he's beyond the age of propriety for suspended-adolescence comedies like Waiting... and Van Wilder, Ryan Reynolds is in hot pursuit of his new niche. He failed, and quite dismally, at the superhero genre (with Green Lantern falling short of everybody's hopes and expectations), and didn't do much to impress in the realm of the straight up crime thriller (playing opposite Denzel Washington in Safe House). Reynolds, gifted with superhuman smarm, belongs in comedy. As such, it would seem that R.I.P.D. is the perfect fit for the newly action-oriented frontman, a melding of his blossoming lust for adventure and his age old proclivity for cracking wise.
But it's at least an hour into the fantastical feature before Reynolds makes his first joke. And it's a joke about skull-f**king, for goodness' sake. Playing a newly deceased Boston lawman charged with protecting the Earth from ghoulish "deados" (departed humans who refuse to leave the planet, infecting everything around them with their toxic aura), Reynolds broods his whole way through R.I.P.D., wishing only to reunite with his beloved wife Julia (Stephanie Szostak) and exact revenge on his partner/murderer (Kevin Bacon). Adherent to his Beantown copper protocol and his inability to accept his fate, Reynolds' Nick is a joyless character whose goat is repeatedly gotten by his partner, deado-hunter veteran Old West cowboy Roysephus "Roy" Pulsifer (Jeff Bridges), the film's real jokester.
In fact, Reynolds seems to be playing a conglomerate of all of the victims of his snark in films past: an agitated, no-nonsense straight man who laments his sidekick's inability to shut his trap. As Roy yammers on endlessly, much to Nick's chagrin, those who approached this film hoping to see the Reynolds we know and love will feel a bit short-changed: where are the wisecracks? The cocky charm? Why isn't he the one being told to shut up? An odd choice that seems, more than anything else, like a wasted opportunity, when so much of R.I.P.D. passes by sans laughter despite its possession of this comically-inclined star.
The backdrop of the film, however, is painted vividly with a sense of humor an important element, mind you, considering the fact that the extremely complex mythology of R.I.P.D. is absolutely senseless. Men and women from all eras are charged with staving off damnation by joining the Rest in Peace Department, which has been around since about 1954 and drops its officers into entirely different human bodies during their earthly tours. Meanwhile, the deados (once emancipated from their human bodies and transformed into their ghoulish, ghastly new figures), can be seen by all as they run rampant through the streets, killing plants and destroying electronics with their "deadly stench," and wreaking general mayhem... yes, people see these monsters, but they don't seem to be too concerned by them.
There are a lot of things that you're best left not thinking about when it comes to R.I.P.D., but there aren't enough laughs to keep you from thinking about them. Bridges' cowboy character isn't much of a hoot, Mary Louise Parker's phantom executive is the dead-eyed opposite to the maniac she plays in this weekend's other release, Red 2 (somewhere in between, we might have a real person), and Reynolds is shockingly joyless from beginning to end. Except for that skull-f**k joke. So, if that's your speed...