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2004 Roundup
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"Saved!"

Directed by Brian Dannelly.
Written by Brian Dannelly and Michael Urban.
Starring Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, Eva Amurri and Macaulay Culkin.
Release Year:  2004 
Review Date:  6/1/04

Folks--

If you can get by the fact that your theater will be chock-full of young, YOUNG women who love both Mandy Moore AND Jena Malone, "Saved!" is a great time at the movies.

That's because the script by Brian Dannelly--at least, for the first hour--does a great job of mixing the politics of the modern-day Christian high school and the comedy of its current inhabitants in this fictional Baltimore County institution.  On one side, there are good Christians, like the angelic Hilary Faye (Moore) and her band of goody two-shoes disciples, who at the start of the film include Mary (Malone), a 17-year-old that isn't 100% sure that this Young Life-style teenhood is quite up her alley.  Hilary is convinced that prayer can solve any problem, from students that skip class, to drug use, to sexual urges, to...overcoming "faggotry", as one misinformed character hilariously drops somewhere mid-film.  Mary, who starts out as one of Hilary's best friends, gets pregnant via her suddenly-gay boyfriend (Chad Faust) and then goes through a harrowing senior year as she makes friends with a number of random kids at the school, like the head of the Christian Skateboarders Association, Patrick (Patrick Fugit), a Jewish transfer named Cassandra (Eva Amurri), even Hilary's crippled friend Roland (Macaulay Culkin).

Culkin, who hasn't been in much over the years since he topped out in the "Home Alone" series, shows here in "Saved!" that there might be a future ahead for his talents.  But his work is matched by almost everyone in the cast; the performances in "Saved!" are truly inspired, an ensemble that is very likable but has enough shades to give us some good guys, some bad guys and some grey guys.  Everywhere you turn, the acting is fantastic:  Amurri as the tortured outsider (clichéd as all get out, but still quite strong); Mary-Louise Parker as the mom that is too busy for her pregnant daughter; Martin Donovan as "Pastor Skip", who enters a school assembly by doing a flip, and then spittin' rhymes about The Lord...even Moore is fantastic, who turns in the film's strongest performance as the over-the-top Holy vixen Hilary.  You are shaking your head sometimes at how far she takes every bit of how prayer can solve the school's ills; her unflagging persistence is maybe the scariest thing in the movie.  I may have dissed Moore as an actress before, but I have to take it all back here...maybe the girl can do more than sing her ass off!

Like I said earlier, Dannelly does a great job of stringing this thing along for the first hour, but in the last 30 minutes of the film, you can just kind of feel "Saved!" running out of steam.  The religious commentary gives way to a by-the-number teen drama (How will Mary deal with her pregnancy?  Will she go to her prom?  Will teen love persevere?), and the ending cleans everything up so nicely you almost--ALMOST--want to hurl.  Also, in the film's biggest gaffe, Malone's character seems to not look pregnant until, oh, she's a week from having the baby.  Then the logic gives way; no one else seems to notice that Mary is preggers either, despite the fact that she should be weighing a bunch more than the 95 pounds she carries for 98% of the film.

I can forgive this, but just barely.  The acting and scripting is so rich in "Saved!"--especially in the first two-thirds of the movie--that I can recommend this one without sweatin' the technique.  Or whatever the kids say these days.

Rating:  $9.50 Show

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09