In "R.I.P.D.," Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges portray deceased lawmen who keep the peace from beyond the grave -- the odd-couple partners protect the living from malevolent spirits who refuse to go quietly into the afterlife.
But shortly before the $130-million sci-fi action-comedy reaches theaters Friday, "R.I.P.D.'s" vital signs are showing about as much of a pulse as the lifeless "Deados" that Bridges and Reynolds battle.
Entering a crowded multiplex this weekend -- where the film will face off against the ensemble action caper "Red 2," the animated kid flick "Turbo" and the modestly budgeted horror movie "The Conjuring" -- audience tracking surveys show that "R.I.P.D." could gross as little as $17 million in its opening weekend, likely the worst among the four new films in release.
That outcome would represent a spectacular failure to launch, even in a summer season full of big-budget misfires such as "The Lone Ranger," "White House Down," "Pacific Rim" and "After Earth," all of which grossed more than $20 million in their opening weekends.
The consumer polling firm Piedmont Media Research said that "R.I.P.D." is scoring about as poorly in its online surveys as some of the costliest flops in recent memory, including "Battleship," "Jack the Giant Slayer" and "John Carter."
"R.I.P.D. is scoring the lowest out of any summer movie we've seen," said the firm's president, Joshua Lynn. "It's easily shaping up to be the big summer bomb."
Chatter about the film on social media has been largely derisive, with numerous Twitter posters pointing out "R.I.P.D.'s" perceived similarities to another supernatural buddy-cop franchise, "Men in Black," the Bill Murray comedy "Ghostbusters" and Guillermo del Toro's "Hellboy" movies.
"Just saw the trailer for the new Men in Black movie," @Wil_Anderson tweeted this month. "For some weird reason they seem to have renamed it RIPD."
Universal, assuming that negative reviews will do little to enhance the film's box office, is declining to show "R.I.P.D." to journalists and critics until Thursday night, just hours before its theatrical release. None of the film's makers were made available to be interviewed for this article.
Adapted from the Dark Horse Entertainment comic "Rest in Peace Department," "R.I.P.D." was acquired by Universal producer Larry Gordon ("Field of Dreams") in summer 1999, with one of the comic's authors, Peter Lenkov ("Demoliton Man"), hired to write the screenplay. But the project stalled and Universal shelved it in 2003.
In 2006, the studio changed its mind and hired David Dobkin ("The Wedding Crashers") to direct, with writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi ("Aeon Flux") brought on to pen a new screenplay. By the summer of 2010, Reynolds had joined the project, and nearly a year later Zach Galifianakis ("The Hangover") was cast as his sidekick. By that point, Dobkin was out as director, replaced by German filmmaker Robert Schwentke.
Owing to a scheduling conflict, however, Galifianakis bowed out of the production, replaced by Bridges, who bears a strong physical resemblance to his cowboy-cop graphic novel character Roy Pulsipher.
The movie started filming in late 2011, with a planned release date of June 28, 2013. But when Sony scheduled the release of "White House Down" on the same date, Universal moved "R.I.P.D." to July 19, which also gave the filmmakers more time to convert the film into 3-D.
Universal remains hopeful that young men will embrace "R.I.P.D." and that the film could generate opening weekend receipts above $20 million. But the film has only a week to establish itself because the highly anticipated "Wolverine" opens July 26.
Regardless of how "R.I.P.D." fares, the studio has enjoyed a record year at the box office and is set to cross the $1-billion mark in domestic ticket sales this weekend, the fastest Universal has surpassed that milestone.
In one twist, "R.I.P.D." is certain to trail the debut of "Red 2," a franchise that "R.I.P.D." director Schwentke launched three years ago.
Helen Mirren, who stars in both "Red" films, said it was unfortunate that her film was likely to topple Schwentke's. "I wish him all the luck in the world," the actress said. "But I do hope we are No. 1."