Saved! (2004) / Comedy-Drama

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexual content and language
Running Time: 92 min.

Cast: Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, Eva Amurri, Macaulay Culkin, Mary-Louise Parker, Martin Donovan, Patrick Fugit, Chad Faust, Heather Matarazzo, Elizabeth Thai
Director: Brian Dannelly

Screenplay: Brian Dannelly, Michael Urban

Fundamentalist Christians may conceive the message of Brian Dannelly's as an attack on them, and while that feeling is certainly understandable given the subject matter, it really is more of a message to practice more tolerance and less damnation -- ironically, a message that Jesus himself practiced and preached.  For purposes of this review, I have decided to avoid getting into whether it is pro-Christian or anti-Christian, and instead concentrate on its merits as a film, as I would any other.  That said, Saved! is an occasionally interesting satire that almost has enough going for it to recommend, but does fall short of making the mark it probably tries to hit.

Jena Malone (Donnie Darko, Stepmom) stars as Mary, a God-fearing girl attending a Christian school in the Baltimore area.  She finds herself conflicted in her faith when her boyfriend Dean (Chad Faust, Hope Springs) tells her he might be gay.  After witnessing what she believes is a vision of Jesus that she should help Dean, Mary convinces herself that the only way to save Dean is to give up her virginity in the hopes of keeping him on the path of the "straight" and narrow.  Her plan is a bust, and soon Dean is shipped off to Mercy House, the place where sinners, unwed mothers, and gays go to be put back on the path of the righteous.  Alas, Mary's one and only sexual encounter results in her pregnancy, and while she wants to do the right thing, she realizes that the atmosphere of intolerance will only result in making her an outcast to her peers.

Like so many others who have followed the same path, Dannelly paints his satire in broad strokes, relying on stereotypes and wildly contrived situations to push forward a level of comedy that will invoke laughs while still trying to stay on message.  Unfortunately, this is material that would lend well to a more subtle approach, and finer characterizations, as there is a serious message underneath that gets lost because these characters never feel real enough to care about.  This makes much of the comedy fall flat time and again, and as outlandish as the film sometimes becomes, the jokes that do hit only evoke occasional smiles or snorts, rather than those that will have audiences doubled over in laughter.

Still, Saved! might have been an amiably amusing diversion had it stuck to its cartoonish satirical nature, but instead, Dannelly makes a decision to play out the final half hour as a meaningful drama.  While he certainly has the right cast to deliver on this front, he doesn't have the right script.  The scenes are well-acted and nicely directed, but with characters this thinly defined, asking for us to feel something for them in the end is a reach that is unattainable.

Saved! isn't really a bad film, but I'm giving it a borderline negative review for being an unfocused and somewhat unrefined satire that might have gelled had Dannelly not chosen to water it down to the point of farce.  Some fundamentalist Christians will hate it, some who hate "Jesus-freaks" will love it, probably for reasons that go beyond whether or not it's a good film.  Because of this, this is the kind of movie I might recommend to some, and recommend against to others, and while I personally wasn't completely satisfied by the end result, the good cast and sporadically interesting commentary deliver just enough entertainment value to avoid collapsing from its overambitious leanings.

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo