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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

R.I.P.D.

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds star in a scene from the movie "R.I.P.D."
Confusion reigns in "R.I.P.D." (Universal), a scattershot action adventure that tries to be too many different kinds of movie at once, and winds up being mostly a mess.

With many of its scenes set in the afterlife, moreover, the film features a convoluted set of post-mortem rules, regulations and dynamics only some of which are compatible with Christian faith.

Director Robert Schwentke's adaptation of Peter M. Lenkov's series of graphic novels introduces us to Boston cop Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds). Though fundamentally decent, Nick has recently been corrupted. Thus, we first observe him furtively burying some ill-gotten goods in his backyard in the middle of the night.

Nick's love for his trusting wife Julia (Stephanie Szostak), however, soon inspires a change of heart, and he decides to return to the straight and narrow.

Rather ill-advisedly, Nick shares the news of his conversion with his even more crooked partner -- in both crime-fighting and crime -- Bobby Hayes (Kevin Bacon). Not one to let things go, it seems, Bobby uses the opportunity of a chaotic raid on a drug lord's den to kill Nick and blame his death on the bad guys.

Waking up in the script's version of Valhalla, Nick is given the opportunity to forestall judgment of -- and, presumably, condemnation for -- his misdeeds by serving on a celestial police force called the Rest in Peace Department. R.I.P.D.'s no-nonsense leader Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker) assures Nick that the organization can use a man with his skills.

Uneasily paired with crusty Wild West-era lawman Roycephus "Roy" Pulsifer (Jeff Bridges), Nick embarks on R.I.P.D.'s work of hunting down dead villains who have managed to evade divine justice by lingering on earth. Improbably, this pursuit eventually ties into -- and sheds new light on -- the circumstances of Nick's own demise.

Though Bridges struggles to sustain the proceedings with amusing bravado, the multiple screenwriters' attempt to combine a buddy movie with a special-effects extravaganza, a comedy and a redemptive romance dooms the film to attention-deficit ineffectiveness.

The image of immortality we're offered is equally out of focus. Believers will welcome the affirmation that our moral choices in this life carry eternal consequences. But, if there is indeed an all-knowing and all-powerful God in command, how is it that the targets of Nick and Roy's investigations -- dubbed Deados -- have eluded the grasp of this Hound of Heaven?

The ante-room afterworld of "R.I.P.D." can be read as a sort of purgatory. Both Nick and Roy are ethically lukewarm characters working out the legacy of their darker doings amid the pain of separation from earthly life and the dissatisfaction caused by their untimely deaths.

But the state these two temporarily inhabit might as easily be identified with the shadowy, nebulous Hades of pagan mythology. And the prospect, as raised in the dialogue, that the dead can be punished with erasure -- so that they will cease to exist spiritually as well as physically -- is certainly contrary to Gospel-based church teaching on the eternal nature of the human soul.

The film contains much action violence with fleeting gore, a nongraphic marital bedroom scene, brief partial nudity, occasional adult humor, a few instances of profanity, considerable crude and crass language and a couple of obscene gestures. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.



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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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