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2004, dir. Brian Dannelly
92 min. Rated PG-13
Starring: Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, Michael Jackson's friend, The 'Almost Famous' kid, Susan Sarandon's bug-eyed daughter, Weiner Dog.

Review by Noel Wood

While watching SAVED!, I couldn't help but be reminded of an incident from over a decade ago. I was a freshman in College, and was putting around the streets of downtown Atlanta in between classes. I ran into a girl I went to high school with, who had a friend in tow. The friend looked a little like SAVED! star Jena Malone, except taller and much cuter. They invited me to eat lunch with me at a local Blimpie, and being eighteen years old and a sucker for a pretty face, I joined them. I started chatting with the friend, hoping to charm her a bit and perhaps win myself a date out of it. And it seemed to work -- she was very receptive to my sense of humor, gave me some telltale eye contact, and even brushed my hand once or twice. And finally, it happened. I didn't even have to make the first move. She leaned over and asked me what I was doing on Friday Night.

Not being much of a ladykiller, I was ecstatic. Not only had I won this girl over, but she actually initiated it. I told her that I was free after I got off work that night, and awaited further inquiry. My heart raced a little, and my palms started to sweat. She anxiously played with her drink straw and gave me a bashful look and finally fed me the question she had been dying to:

"Would you like to go to church with me?"

Suddenly, my mood shifted. I quickly made an excuse and mentioned that I would probably be too tired after a long day delivering pizzas and then said I needed to go to class. I tossed my stuff out and high-tailed it out of there.

Now, I realize that none of this seems very important in the long run, but what I intended to illustrate with this anecdote was my personal history of not exactly being the most religious bloke out there. My parents were of two different Christian sects, and as a result, I was never much of a churchgoer. My beliefs were deeply rooted in agnosticism long before I even knew such a thing existed. And once I had reached my teen years, I was hanging out with a crowd that cultivated me into someone who not only rejected religion, but actively opposed it. Blasphemy became a hobby for me, just to ruffle the feathers of the holier-than-thou bible-thumpers around me.

As I got a little older, that started to change. No, I never went out and found Jesus, and my religious beliefs haven't really changed in the slightest throughout my entire life. But I've moved more toward a tolerant stance for such things. I no longer wish to infuriate those around me whose beliefs differ from mine. I realized a long time ago that the worst thing one can become is their own enemy, and I just stopped trying to argue what will never reach compromise to begin with.

That said, if SAVED! had come out when I was in high school, I would have loved it. I would have loved it because I would have been convinced that the film was a scathing lampoon of religion. But the me of today realizes that SAVED! is indeed not intended to parody religion, but rather to parody the extremists. The intolerant. In essence, the high school me would have been just as much a target as the narrow-minded extremists that are portrayed in this film.

But that's not really a big issue as far as this film goes, because the adult me enjoyed it as well. It's in no way groundbreaking, it doesn't do anything that a dozen other teen comedies have done in the past, but it's not a big fat pile of shit either.

SAVED! is Yet Another Teen Movie, taking place this time in a Christian high school where a six-story Jesus towers above the campus. And like pretty much every high school movie you've seen in the last two decades, the school is run by a clique of popular girls who look down upon others. This time, though, their purpose is to act as the most pious and righteous girls in school, judging others for their shortcomings in the way of their religion. The ringleader, Hilary Faye, is constantly trying to 'save' other individuals, from her friend Mary's closeted boyfriend to a Jewish transient student. The group, who have formed a musical trio called the "Christian Jewels", lose Mary as a member when she discovers that she's pregnant and starts questioning the narrow view of her comrades.

Along the way, things start unraveling all over. Mary's boyfriend Dean's homosexual tendencies are discovered by his parents, who send him away to a rehab center. Mary's mom starts a flirtatious affair with Pastor Skip, the school's principal, despite the fact that he's still married. Mary befriends the school's outsiders, whose lives Hilary Faye and her gang try to make a living hell, while trying to keep her pregnancy a secret from her schoolmates and her mother. Eventually, Mary and her friend Cassandra are expelled, and her life looks to be crashing in all around her.

The film gets it right by not doing what it condemns: preaching. There's a certain breath of fresh air when the "good guys" in the movie aren't the polar opposites of the "bad guys". The characters we care about are still devout Christians all the way up until the end (except for Cassandra the Jew and Roland the I-don't-give-a-rat's-ass brother of Hilary Faye,) they just keep an open mind. Pastor Skip's son Patrick, who skateboards for Jesus, rebels against his father while still keeping his faith. Mary's mother comes around and opens her heart to her daughter when she discovers her secret.

The film does turn out a little predictable to anyone who has seen any other films in the teen genre, but it carries a certain type of charm that helps me forgive that. However, it's not without some other flaws as well. Chalk some of that up to first-time director Brian Dannelly, who doesn't quite have a style at this point. The characters for the most part aren't developed beyond one dimension, and the camerawork is uninspired. On top of that, there'a a plothole or two (I don't know about you, but I hope that my Credit Card statements never decide to itemize my purchases) that can be forgiven. And I wonder who gave the go-ahead for Replacements songs to be played at a Christian school prom, but that's just me. But for the most part, SAVED! works.

The stars handle the load pretty well. Jena Malone is about as perfect in the lead as you're going to get. Mandy Moore does a pretty good job of satitizing her squeaky-clean image. Patrick Fugit puts on that likeable charm that made him work so well in ALMOST FAMOUS. Eva Amurri goes from bad girl to best friend almost flawlessly. Even Macaualay Culkin isn't terrible, but I still think that directors should try to grab his much-more-talented brother Kieran whenever possible.

It ain't perfect, but SAVED! is enjoyable. It puts a new spin on a classic story, and keeps its head up for the most part. As a satire, though, it couldn't work better. I just hope that people get what exactly it's satirizing.


All Material Copyright 1998-2006 Movie Criticism for the Retarded.

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