Saved! (October 7/04)
Saved! is a heavy-handed satire that effectively roasts a very specific target, though it often seems as though screenwriters Brian Dannelly and Michael Urban are emphasizing smugness rather than characters and plot.
The object of the film's scorn is the American Eagle Christian High School, an establishment that seems less concerned with educating than with whipping the students into a religious fervor on a daily basis. We meet several attendees of the school, including: super-devout Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore); Roland (Macaulay Culkin), a wheelchair-bound agnostic; Cassandra (Eva Amurri), the local rebel; and Mary (Jena Malone), a popular girl whose unplanned pregnancy sends shock waves through American Eagle.
It's not that Saved! is a bad movie, necessarily - it's essentially entertaining throughout - but Urban and Dannelly's reluctance to go-for-broke with the film's satirical elements is what eventually kills it. As the movie progresses, it becomes more and more conventional; ie the emphasis on the wooing of Mary by hunky new kid Patrick (played by Patrick Fugit). By the time we get to the big prom scene, it's clear that Saved! would rather follow the rules of the teen genre rather than subvert them. This is compounded by a distinct sense of preachiness that begins to creep in as the movie approaches its conclusion, inexplicably turning likable characters into villains.
Yet, at the very least, Saved! remains watchable thanks primarily to some wonderfully entertaining supporting performances - most notably Martin Donovan's turn as Pastor Skip, an energetic and popular clergyman at the school. Skip's efforts to make Jesus seem hip (he riles up the students by exclaiming "let's get our Christ on!") are undeniably the funniest aspect of the movie, while his would-be relationship with Mary's mother is one of the more intriguing underdeveloped aspects of the screenplay.
Yet despite its best efforts, Saved! never quite manages to extinguish its after-school-special type vibe. The performances are better than expected (Mandy Moore continues to prove that she might actually have some talent), and the story moves at a fairly efficient pace.