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Mandy Moore learns that Jesus was only kidding about that "path-to-salvation-via-mullet" thing.

© 2004, United Artists
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Mary (Jena Malone) is a teenager attending a Christian high school, and has been content to put her thoughts and desires in the hands of Jesus. With the help of her fanatical friends (including Mandy Moore and Heather Matarazzo), Mary is trying to lead the good, religious life. But when a chance to turn her boyfriend away from the homosexual lifestyle fails and she ends up pregnant, Mary falls in with some non-believers (Eva Amurri and Macaulay Culkin), who help the confused young girl with her problems. For the first time facing the truth about her religious beliefs, Mary struggles to hold herself together against the faculty and her fellow students as she brings the baby to term.

Suspiciously timed for release just as Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" has finally left multiplexes, the Christian community spoof "Saved!" (IMDb listing) isn't quite the blasphemous monster it's been reported to be. "Saved!" tries to turn religious devotion, contradictions, and iconography into a rip-roaring satire, but it fails to be at all interesting and, most damningly, it is deeply unfunny.

First time writer/director Brian Dannelly has come armed with bullets targeted for the Christian subculture, but he's a little anemic in his satire, and horribly amateurish in his direction. The film uses religious stereotypes to make larger juxtapositions and declarations of religious insanity, but it's hard to buy anything the filmmaker is shoveling when he crudely writes himself in and out of crucial situations with sitcom precision, and instructs most of his cast to act like they're in a "Saturday Night Live" skit. "Saved!" isn't covering any new ground, but Dannelly's idea to take on Christian teens is a bold one. However, there's little bite to Dannelly's script (written with Michael Urban) outside of the obvious moral inconsistency undertones, and his comedic situations (a teacher who wants to be hip around his students by using teenage slang is the biggest offender) are a waste of time and effort.

As mentioned above, the cast plays very broadly for really no reason. To try and hammer home the "lunacy" of the Christian world takes a deft hand, and Mandy Moore is the last person who should be handling broad indictments of this society. A confident actress, Moore overplays her hand in every scene. Seemingly egged on by Dannelly, she's reaching "Life of Brian"-like satiric heights (a film that was recently re-released to school everyone on how to properly satirize religion). All Moore really excels at is turning interesting comedic ideas into disarmingly stupid ones. Better is Jena Malone as the deeply conflicted lead character. Malone knows when to tone down the cartoon and bring a little realism into the situation. And straddling that fine line between genuine and animated is the wonderful Eva Amurri, who injects "Saved!" with the type of anarchic spirit that Dannelly is suggesting with his writing, but doesn't have a clue how to translate to the screen. Thank God he hired her.

Filmfodder Grade: D

The path to bliss begins with a Saved! poster.

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