The premise of "R.I.P.D." is that there is a secret supernatural police force that protects an unknowing humanity from bad souls who want to escape their eternal damnation. So a just-dead Boston cop (Ryan Reynolds), killed by his crooked partner (Kevin Bacon), is paired up with an Old West lawman (Jeff Bridges). Overseen by a mod-era bureau chief (Mary-Louise Parker), the new duo must stop a growing swarm of bad guys from rebuilding an ancient contraption that would reverse the flow of souls to the afterlife, flooding the world with the evil and dead.

Directed by Robert Schwentke from a screenplay by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi and based on a series of graphic novels, that premise opens up the need for quite a bit of explaining. The early sections of the movie consist largely of Bridges explaining to Reynolds which guns and bullets work on who, how people see you when you're dead, how they get from one world to another and so on, trying in vain to preempt all the questions a viewer winds up asking oneself anyway through the rest of the film.

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Attempting to review this film, it's tempting to cut-and-paste turns of phrase from other reviews, as "R.I.P.D." feels so cobbled together from other movies, a bit of "Men in Black" here, a touch of "Ghostbusters" there.

The entire film has an oddly underdone quality to it, as if aiming not for greatness but to simply be passable. One of the film's main conceits is that the living see officers of the R.I.P.D. ("Rest in Peace Department") as avatars, someone else, and so Bridges takes the form of a model-ready blond (model Marisa Miller) and Reynolds an elderly Chinese man (veteran character actor James Hong). The idea gets referenced a lot, mostly smarmy guys checking out Bridges with leering looks, but it comes across as not entirely thought through and underutilized. Even the film's Boston setting, used so well in crime films like "The Departed" and "The Town," seems somehow underexploited given the film's buddy-cop bones.

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The film is a visual mess, with cheap-looking effects hampered even further by crummy and unconvincing 3-D. (Anyone who insists on seeing this movie — because a relative or neighbor worked on it, perhaps — will certainly get better value for the money by skipping the 3-D.) The film frequently runs into what has become the true scourge of modern cinema of scale, that once the screen becomes dominated by computer generated imagery, the brain somehow unconsciously picks up that it's all zeros and ones dancing about and the heart checks out. With anything made possible, too often nothing matters. 

A rare spot of wit involves Reynolds asking Parker why Steely Dan music is always playing in her office. It genuinely feels like people just passing the time, waiting for whatever it is they are supposed to be doing to get started. A viewer grows to know the feeling well. "R.I.P.D." arrives in theaters on a wave of vaguely bad buzz and, perhaps worse, general indifference, as the clunky, noisy and confused film feels like make-work for all involved.

mark.olsen@latimes.com

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'R.I.P.D.'

MPAA rating: PG-13 for violence, sci-fi/fantasy action, some sensuality and language including sex references.

Running time: 1 hour and 36 minutes

Playing: In general release