Developed from writer Peter M. Lenkov and penciller Lucas Marangon's Dark Horse comic-book series and chock-full of references to buddy cop movies (48 Hrs., Lethal Weapon) and previous supernatural comedies (Men in Black, Ghostbusters), Red director Robert Schwentke's muddled action-comedy/3D spectacle achieves a level of tonal inconsistency that defies belief. Interviewed in a celestial office by the officious, ultra-sarcastic Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker), a woman wearing a 60s mod outfit and plastic kinky boots, recently deceased Boston cop Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds) hears Steely Dan's 1990 track Hey Nineteen playing quietly in the background. Like Reynolds' disorientated character, you might be wondering, “What's with the Steely Dan thing?” That is, if you're old enough to remember the sophisticated jazz-pop duo, which most of the audience for a 12A-rated film are unlikely to be.
Peculiar choices like these are what make Schwentke's comic-book adaptation such a frustrating mess, although it's not a film bereft of ideas. Perhaps, given the script's lengthy gestation, it has retained too many random elements from earlier iterations. Jeff Bridges, as a belligerent old coot with an old timer's sense of justice, and Reynolds, as his pissed off 'rookie' partner, have some fun with the antagonistic banter. The over-complicated plot, on the other hand, gets bogged down with some dull stuff about the undead cops' efforts to stop the bad guy Deados (souls reluctant to pass on to the other side who inhabit stinking human bodies) from opening up a portal that will allow myriad dead folks to return and take over the Earth. Not to mention an awkwardly handled Ghost-style romance between Reynolds' dead cop and his grieving wife, Julia (Stephanie Szostak), a necrophiliac love affair hampered by the fact that Nick's earthly avatar makes him look like an old Chinese guy (played by 84-year-old James Hong).
Thanks to Alwin (Sunshine) Küchler's classy 3D cinematography the film looks a lot better than it sounds, but none of the Deado monsters is interesting enough to hold our attention, so we're left with a sub-plot about Walker's double-crossing ex-partner Bobby Hayes (Kevin Bacon) and some random, CGI-tastic set-pieces that go nowhere. This is all made doubly frustrating by some neat touches that hint at what might have been: the R.I.P.D.'s HQ is hidden behind a VCR repair shop and the interrogation of suspected undercover Deados involves the use of surreal stock questions about spicy Indian food. If there had been more of this kind of thing, this might have been a tent-pole movie less ordinary.