MPAA Rating, PG-13
USCCB Rating, A-III
RIPD is a terrible movie, but it is wonderfully terrible. Those who make the mistake of seeing it in the theaters will demand their money back, but a teenage couple twenty years from now, bored on a Friday night, will find it in the forgotten corners of Netflix and have a great time. This film invites audience participation: groaning at every stupid line, complaining on the outlandish effects, and not feeling guilty about leaving the room for a popcorn refill. If only Mystery Science Theater 3000 was still on air, what a glorious episode it would make.
Yet the biggest problem with RIPD isn’t the poor writing, sloppy plot, or grotesque monsters. The real problem is that it never engages what may have been a great comedic look at the afterlife. There is virtually no religious content in a film about people who work in purgatory. What a shame.
Boston police offer Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds) dies suddenly at the hands of his best friend Bobby. Usually, this would be the end of a film, but it is only the beginning. On his way to judgment (and implied damnation), he is recruited by the Rest In Peace Department to help catch dead souls hiding among the living. In exchange, he’ll get a nice recommendation. Think of it as a post-death indulgence for spiritual bounty hunting. How these dead souls managed to escape God’s watchful eye is never addressed.
Nick’s mentor in this weird world is the gun slinging lawman Roy, played to perfection by Jeff Bridges. After forty years of Oscar nominated roles, Bridges looks tickled pink to play an inter-dimensional Western sheriff camouflaged like a supermodel to mortal eyes. He is supposed to teach Nick to find these fugitive souls and bring them back in shackles to judgment, but due process is not conducive to a CGI driven PG-13 movie. Instead, he shoots the dead with bullets that “erase them from the cosmos.” (Is it a tip of the hat to Seventh-Day Adventists?)
The dead fight back by re-creating an ancient machine that reverses the process of mortality to let all dead souls get thrown back to Earth instead of sucked up into the sky towards the heavenly realm. Take a breath and read the previous sentence again. It takes either a five-year-old child with no religious training or a theologian with three advanced degrees to come up with something so ridiculous. I’m betting on the five year old.
A heavenly police force is a great idea; imagine St. Michael as a Law & Order chief of police. Strangely, the afterlife of RIPD is devoid of religious sentiment. It is a secular afterlife; only a few references to the dietary restrictions of the world’s faiths stand as a representation that religion and the afterlife have anything to do with one another. Divine orders for the department come via tube from a group simply called “Internal Affairs.” Humans have imagined God as many things, but this might be God’s first chance as a managing bureaucrat.
One of things the saints have continually conveyed about Heaven is that it is very, very busy. St. Thérèse of Lisieux said she wanted to spend eternity helping people on Earth. Heaven is certainly not a Gary Larson cartoon containing only harps, clouds, and bored people. RIPD captures that busy energy; no doubt angels are constantly battling demons. Despite the film’s inherent idiocy, the members of the department are concerned about protecting their loved ones. Stephanie Szostak’s brief role as Nick’s wife shows that this film has some real heart and the dead still care for the living.
That’s one of the great things about Catholicism. There is no great divide between the souls in the afterlife and the souls of this life. The dearly departed are immediately available in prayer at every moment of every day. One specific RIPD officer also watches out for the spiritual safety of one individual human. Guardian angels might not have cartoonish, large handguns or even wings but devote their entire existence to getting people to their heavenly home.
RIPD has a some things going for it, but it is, in the end, simply too silly and too stupid to say anything intelligent. This does not detract from its entertainment value but instead sidelines it into another category. Its value lies in how much fun the audience can have because of its poor quality. As a film dealing with important topics of eternal destiny, it succeeds in the heart but fails miserably in the head.