From left Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds in "R.I.P.D.," directed...

From left Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds in "R.I.P.D.," directed by Robert Schwentke. In theaters on July 19, 2013. Credit: Universal Pictures

The supernatural action-comedy "R.I.P.D.," starring Ryan Reynolds as a dead Boston cop who joins a rather different police force in the afterlife, crept quietly into theaters Friday after being screened for critics only Thursday night -- too late for most newspaper deadlines. It's a vote of no confidence that means that the studio would rather see no reviews than lousy ones.

Universal Pictures should have had more faith. Despite its flaws, "R.I.P.D." is a fairly entertaining and frequently funny movie. It never quite finds the right tone, and it often overestimates the freshness of its ideas. What makes it entertaining, though, are the occasional curveballs of loopy humor, most of which come from Reynolds' co-star Jeff Bridges.

As a Wild West-era lawman named Roy Pulsifer, partner to Reynolds' Nick Walker, Bridges mixes some of his best-known roles: The hard-bitten marshal of "True Grit," the country singer of "Crazy Heart" (Pulsifer croons a bit) and, of course, The Dude in "The Big Lebowski." As a result, Bridges' character -- despite the cartoonish, Custer-style mustache -- is enjoyably unpredictable and disarming. Even his throwaway scenes with Mary-Louise Parker as a fetching undead bureaucrat have flashes of real chemistry.

The film's larger conceits fall flat. The notion of a weird world unseen by humans but monitored by an elite force is breathlessly unveiled by director Robert Schwentke (2010's "RED") as if none of us had ever seen "Men in Black" or "Ghostbusters." The monsters in this film, called "deados," are overly familiar: normal-looking folks who can suddenly turn into icky-sticky grotesqueries. The added wrinkle of the deados being grossed out by Indian food is too random to be truly funny, but Bridges rescues the joke by shoving fistfuls of tandoori into his mouth with wild abandon.

Our hero, Nick, is another forgettable role for Reynolds, but Kevin Bacon, as a crooked cop, adds a little edge to the proceedings. The best moments in "R.I.P.D." come when you least expect them. Stay for the closing credits to hear a delightfully harebrained ballad, co-written and sung by Bridges, called "The Better Man."

PLOT A slain Boston cop joins a supernatural police force.

RATING PG-13 (violence, sci-fi/fantasy action, some sensuality and language, including sex references

CAST Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Mary-Louise Parker


BOTTOM LINE A too-close cousin of "Men in Black," but flashes of wit and oddball humor help keep this undead comedy alive.

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