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Rated 3.04 stars
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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Christian Caricatures Lampooned
by Jeffrey Chen

Since Christianity in the movies has always been a combustible topic, the release of Saved! will undoubtedly fan a few more flames. On the surface, this film looks like an all-out attack on Christians -- in particular, the hardcore, in-your-face variety, exemplified by a character named Hilary Faye, played by Mandy Moore, who is seen in the commercials angrily throwing a book at a girl's back while exclaiming, "I am filled with Christ love!" Yes, this is a comedy, and that particular scene is pretty funny, but only if you don't interpret the movie as the type of all-out attack on Christians mentioned above.

Saved! is actually much more focused in its assault than that -- it is specifically after the "militant" Christians, the kind who are intolerant of other world views while condescendingly preaching their own. It pokes as much fun at their narrow-minded stances on homosexuality as it does about their decidedly un-hip attempts to make their faith hip (the fictional Christian school's pastor, played by Martin Donovan, calls out to the class during a welcome back rally, "Who's down with the G-O-D?" and "Are you ready to get your Christ on?").

Everything is enacted here through that well-worn story of the school misfits vs. the school Heathers -- in this case, Hilary Faye (like "Charlie Brown," her two names are almost never spoken separately) and her requisite hangers-on who are there simply to nod at any proclamation she makes. They're up against the main character, Mary (Jena Malone), a former member now at the brink of losing her religion, and her new outcast friends, Hilary Faye's wheelchair-bound non-believer brother Roland (Macaulay Culkin), and Cassandra (Eva Amurri), the cigarette-brandishing class rebel who also happens to be Jewish.

These movies are always about the intellectuals defeating the shallow, and Saved! adds an extra angle by assigning the "shallow" part to the militant Christians. Viewers of the movie may feel its filmmakers had a definite axe to grind -- were they once driven away from their Christian circles by those judgmental hypocrites who openly asked for brotherly love but then cast aspersions behind closed doors? Whatever the case may be, the attack may prove to be ineffective -- no one who watches Saved! will side with Hilary and her league of Christian caricatures; many of them, Christian or otherwise, may already practice a years-ripened doctrine of general human tolerance, which would then give the movie the effect of preaching to the choir. So everyone gets in a few good laughs, but their object of ridicule is, in effect, a straw man.

It's too bad. Saved! is decent as a comedy, but it's ultimately forgettable because it gives no real air to what it's trying to puncture. Doubly too bad because the clash of the militant Christians and the society they think needs saving is a juicy subject -- the strained relations between the two sides could have produced a sharp and witty satire with a subversive edge. Saved! is the opposite -- the movie starts out unsubtle, then grows louder as it goes along. The worst moment comes when it reveals the background of Hilary Faye, and we find out she may have been motivated less by true faith and more by other non-religious concerns. Wouldn't it have been more interesting to depict a confrontation between a tough true believer and the emerging believer of a different world view? But the movie's only point becomes, "There's room for Christianity and tolerance," and it's jackhammered home by a speech near the end from a wrongly institutionalized character. In this film's world, it's really no contest -- there was never any interest for a contest in the first place.

Saved! takes the easy way out by knocking down hypocrites, and a hypocrite of any color, including Christian, is still a hypocrite. Thus, the comedy comes across as effective because taking down hypocrisy can always be made funny. But by employing Christianity, the movie strikes a nerve -- anyone who's been uncomfortably accosted by a person with intent to convert knows this is a touchy subject that will elicit a broad selection of opinions. A film authentically tackling the real-world divide would have been fascinating; however, a  movie like Saved! can only be momentarily amusing.

(Released by MGM and rated "PG-13" for strong thematic issues involving teens -- sexual content, pregnancy, smoking and language.)

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