And though it may lack the originality of those sci-fi classics, it certainly has more to say about the afterlife than the pair combined.
Ryan Reynolds plays Nick Walker, a Boston Police detective who opens the film burying gold in his backyard. He and his partner Bobby Hayes (Kevin Bacon) have confiscated the loot during a drug-bust and decided that keeping it would be a victimless crime. The theft weighs heavily on Nick’s conscience but before he can do something about it, he’s killed during a raid on a methamphetamine lab. Next moment, Nick finds himself floating towards his final judgment, unsure whether the crime will count against him. That’s when the officers of the Rest In Peace Department step in. The guilty detective is given an opportunity to earn some credit by spending a hundred years cleaning up earth’s ‘dead-os’, the deceased who refuse to move on to their afterlife. However he soon discovers the undead are hatching a plan that could turn Boston into a Hell on earth.
Re-reading that summary, it’s hard to believe that R.I.P.D. is actually a comedy. Most of the laughs come courtesy of Jeff Bridges who plays Nick’s partner Roy, an ex-US Marshal who lived in the 1800s. I promise you, you won’t fail to chuckle when he reveals to Nick how the rest of the world now sees him. Roy’s as cantankerous as MIB’s Agent Kay and as careless as Ghostbuster’s Dr. Venkman. However, he also happens to be a little more forthcoming than they are on the nature of the universe. In fact ‘The Universe’ is how he refers to the power behind life, death and the judgment to come. He tells Nick it’s ‘smarter than us’ but at the same time he rails against it for allowing the creation of the Jericho Staff, the apocalyptic device they’re trying to locate. His spiritual rationale also seems to be that people deserve to be rewarded for the good they achieve, not the rules they break in the process. I’m not sure how they’d label that in the R.I.P.D. but down here it’s called 'working your way to Heaven'.
Getting our spiritual debts cleared
Detective Walker is initially uncertain about the idea of joining an undead police force, but his recruiter Mildred Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker) makes it clear he needs all the help he can get. She reminds him that in life, stealing evidence might have seemed like a little matter but Eternity’s courtroom takes a more serious view:
You can take your chances with Judgment or you can join the R.I.P.D. I know for a fact you can use a good recommendation on Judgment Day.
Couldn’t we all? Regardless of what Roy hollers, there’s nothing we can do to get God in our debt. He doesn’t owe us a share in His eternal life, and without Him the only other option is endless death.
R.I.P.D. is a great action-comedy for a Saturday night and it even promotes one fundamental truth, while persisting with one timeless error. There is no doubt in the human mind that evil actions have their consequences; we have to pay for what we do wrong. However R.I.P.D.’s suggestion that we can shred our file of misdemeanours by doing good only succeeds in underestimating the extent of our problems.
Good doesn’t outweigh evil, it’s actually neutral. When we do the right thing, we do what God has been expecting from us all along. We need someone else’s good deeds to replace our black ones. Thankfully that’s a recommendation Jesus is prepared to put in on our behalf – and it won’t take a century of extra effort to seal the deal.
Watching R.I.P.D. with your kids
R.I.P.D. is a romp through an afterlife that’s as crazy as the comic book it’s based on and just as suited to its teenage target market. It’s also not a bad context for posing one of the following:
- Why does Rick feel so nervous when he’s heading for the afterlife – especially if he thinks stealing the gold was a ‘victimless crime’?
- What does Proctor tell him he needs to make it through the judgment to come?
- Whose ‘good recommendation’ are you relying on to get you through your own judgment day?
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