Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Prior to its release, Saved! attracted a predictable share of surely well-anticipated controversy. Rising to the film's bait, and taking a break from warning against the evils of Harry Potter, Ted Baehr of the Christian Film And Television Commission even warned that the film has been marketed "to Christian children to try to divorce them from their faith." He should probably be concerned for children whose faith could be tested by such a halfhearted mediocrity. The film's evangelical Christian high-school setting is mostly window dressing, an excuse for some off-target cheap shots that have little to do with the business-as-usual teen comedy that contains them.

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Early on, for instance, stars Jena Malone and Mandy Moore fire off rounds at a target range called "Eye For An Eye." The name reflects a belief that many conservative Christians may secretly share (and some powerful conservative Christians have turned into a global doctrine), but that few Christians would outwardly profess. If director Brian Dannelly were interested in taking his film into the realm of camp, the gag might have worked, but as is, it simply gives the impression that he doesn't quite know what he's talking about. Any group that treats the Left Behind series as a plausible look at the future and believes in deprogramming gay teens doesn't need to be exaggerated for laughs.

For the most part, however, Saved! confines its caricatures to its characters. As the churchy equivalent to one of Mean Girls' Queen Bees, Moore gives a bitchily over-the-top performance; playing her punk-inclined antagonist (and the school's implausible token Jew), Eva Amurri behaves as if inspired by a boozy midnight screening of All About Eve. Their hamminess offsets some nice work in the middle from Malone, who always looks as if she's exploring depths that the film hasn't considered, and Macaulay Culkin, who gives his paraplegic doubter an acerbic edge.

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Much of the drama concerns how each character reacts to Malone's pregnancy and her subsequent religious disillusionment. The trouble is that they all behave exactly as their first appearances might suggest. Dannelly and co-screenwriter Michael Urban spend little time considering what makes their characters tick, and only slightly more in making them tick at all. Even Malone's crisis of faith gets confined to some flirtation with healing crystals and a scene in which she tears down a kitten-covered "Expect A Miracle!" poster, and it's all smothered out in a finale filled with hasty resolutions and hairpin changes of heart—set, of course, at a prom. That's typical of how Saved! works: In place of dogma, it pushes a sweet, vague message of tolerance with the same self-righteousness, condescension, and retreat into easy answers of those it attacks.

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