ripd-posterR.I.P.D. has all of the tell-tale fingerprints of being the boardroom product of Hollywood calculus:  take a comic book with its built in audience + buddy cop dynamic + huge special effects budget  = potential franchise.  This math, however, assumes things like an inventive script.  Adapted by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi (Clash of the Titans) from Peter M. Lenkov’s Dark Horse comic series, it comes across as a not particularly clever cross between Ghostbusters and Men in Black.  But it does have its moments and by moments, namely Jeff Bridge’s inspired performance.

The function of the Rest In Peace Department is to track down ghosts aliens “deados,” those troubled souls who have decided not to move onto their eternal reward, but rather stick around this place exuding their “soul stink.”  It’s this stink of their lives that is responsible for the bulk of the ills of our world.  Staffed by the greatest law enforcement officers of all time, all of whom are postponing their own date with judgment day with the minimum of 100 years terms of service, the R.I.P.D. force polices the deados.

“That’s not who I am.” –Nick

So we have the familiar architecture of newly deceased rookie officer, Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds, voice of Turbo) paired with crotchety veteran, Roy(cephus) Pulsifer (Jeff Bridges).  A fifteen year vet of the Boston Police Department, Nick and his then partner, Bobby (Kevin Bacon), give into temptation and steal some gold recovered in a drug bust.  Nick’s conscious gets the better of him and he confesses to his partner that he’s going to turn it in.  For his act of repentance, he gets shot in the face.  His journey to his eternal reward is waylaid by Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker stepping in for the Rip Torn role of Agent Zed from Men in Black) briefs him on his new duties.  Cue adventures in chasing down deados and their Indian food triggered transformations.  One element greatly under-utilized in the movie is the fact that the R.I.P.D. officers appear differently to the living than their original selves.  So Nick is an elderly Chinese man (James Hong), who waves around a banana instead of a gun; and Roy is a buxom blonde knockout (supermodel Marisa Miller), who waves around her … buxomness.

ripd - james hong“What do you think eternal punishment is going to be like?” –Nick

The movie revolves around the question of what happens after we die and what is the nature of that afterlife.  At that moment of death, everything freezes, life crystallizes, and eternity comes into focus.  For many, reconciling God’s everlasting love with the eternal torments of hell is, at the very least, difficult.  In Brian McLaren’s The Last Word and the Word After That, the dilemma is posed this way:  “If Christianity is true, then all the people I love except for a few will burn in hell forever. But if Christianity is not true, then life doesn’t seem to have much meaning or hope. I wish I could find a better option”

We have a heavily Western-influenced view of the law and justice which in turn distorts our view of how to read “judgment” passages in the Bible.  We trap God in a box of (our definition of) justice, as if He exists in a court system greater than Him.  This also shifts our theology and central mission, becoming more concerned with individual salvation and doing enough to get into heaven/escape hell.  We lose focus of the idea of what we’re here on earth to do and become.

Nick has that lament when he considers that he blew his chance to become the person his wife thought he was.  And that hints at the real question:  what kind of person will we become, how will we become that kind of person, and what kind of world do we want to create?  We can believe and participate in God’s kingdom, participating in the salvation of the world, or we can be deados, leaving soul stink in our wake.

ripd“Whatever’s waiting for you on the other side is going to be bad.” –Nick

When you are stuck in something you realize is bad, the least you can do is give into it, have fun, and relish the fact that you’re cashing the check.  Jeff Bridges throws himself into the role, fleshing out Roy in ways not found in any other place in the lackluster script.  While Roy’s gruff demeanor doesn’t allow him to easily allow new partners into his life, he can display odd bits of vulnerability, such as when, his feelings hurt, he pulls out a squeezebox and begins singing the excruciatingly maudlin ballad called “The Better Man” (co-written by Bridges and T-Bone Burnett).

The movie can be cheesy fun, often little more than a live action cartoon.  At its best, R.I.P.D. had the potential to break out like Big Trouble in Little China, but it’s more likely that R.I.P.D. will be D.O.A., going the way of Green Lantern and Jonah Hex.