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SAVED!

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin, Patrick Fugit, Ava Amurri, Martin Donovan, Mary Louise Parker
Director:  Brian Dannelly
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  MGM
Features:  See Review
Length:  92 Minutes
Release Date:  October 5, 2004

"There's only one reason Christian girls come down to the Planned Parenthood."

"She's planting a pipe bomb?"

"Okay...two reasons..."

Film *

Once upon a time, Hollywood made comedies that stereotyped African Americans.  Depictions of toothy grinned, watermelon chomping, chicken stealing, jig dancing black folks like Mantan or Steppin' Fetchit flickered across the screen, and audiences howled. 

It was good clean fun?  Well, maybe not if you happened to be of the same kind of people that were being ridiculed and made out to be less than human for the sake of mass entertainment.  But some people just can't take a joke, right?

That's what was said back in those ugly, embarrassing days of racially insensitive humor.  Thankfully, our culture has grown somewhat beyond finding the belittling of an entire race of people for jollies as a viable pastime.  Heck, the only groups left that are politically okay to belittle for the bemusement of the great masses are fat people and Christians.  Nothing terribly wrong with that, huh?

Unless you happen to be a fat person or a Christian.  I happen to be both.  And I'm not so self-conscious that I can't laugh at myself, or even roll with a few jokes at my expense.  But sometimes, you look at a film like Saved, and you think about it, and you think about the way Christians are constantly portrayed in cinema today and the way our black citizens were once portrayed, and you begin to realize that things like these only pretend to be born out of humor.  The sad truth is, they're born out of hatred, crafted by careless hands who would much rather belittle than understand, and who would much rather tear others down than build themselves up.

Christians are the last group of people expected to sit still and take it while everything we hold sacred is desecrated in the name of art, freedom of expression, and so on and so forth.  If someone with no talent wants to earn a little fame and notoriety by floating a crucifix in urine or covering an image of the Virgin Mary in feces, we'd best not offer a protest, or we run the risk of being called narrow minded, intolerant, and persecutors of others.  Show Song of the South on a big screen, and cries of bigotry and discrimination erupt from coast to coast.  Show Saved, and what's the matter with us...don't we have a sense of humor?

The sad fact is, if a movie exactly like Saved had been made about Muslims instead of Christians, the film would have never seen mass distribution.  Any movie companies associated with it would be blackballed in every media outlet throughout the land, and any actor who appeared in it would be forever besmirched and lucky to find work in a dog food commercial.  But make it about people who follow Jesus instead of Muhammad, and it gets critical raves and great press and hailed as the comedy sensation of the year.  If more people could simply appreciate what a double standard is at play here, it might be the beginning of the end for the last great protected prejudice in this country.

Saved follows a senior class at a Christian high school from before the beginning of the school year until prom.  The main character is Mary (Malone), a girl raised in the church but who is about to experience a debilitating crisis of faith.  When her boyfriend admits he might be gay, she figures Jesus would want her to help cure him, so she sleeps with him, figuring her Savior will restore her virginity as a reward for such a selfless act.  But instead, she ends up pregnant.

Her one time friend, Hilary Faye (Moore), is the epitome of every stereotype venomously hurled at Christians...think Amos n' Andy for the Bible belt and you've just about got it.  She has no compassion for Mary's predicament, or Mary's boyfriend either, who is always referred to as 'pervert' or 'heathen'.  She doesn't even have a lot of heart for her own crippled brother Roland (Culkin), or the school's lone Jewish girl and all out rebel Cassandra (Amurri).  She talks God's forgiveness while holding those who might need it most in contempt. 

The school year plays out with Mary trying to hide her blossoming condition while coming to realize that Christians like Hilary Faye are the true bad guys of the world.  The kids in the movie who reject faith are the heroic figures.  They're the ones who really love their neighbors.  If you're a Christian, you're just a self-absorbed hypocrite.  Wow...isn't this hysterical stuff?  No wonder critics were wetting themselves with laughter and climbing over each other to write the blurbs of praise that would end up on the movie poster.

The prom is, of course, where it all comes together, or falls apart, depending on your point of view.  There's the obligatory soap box moment when the 'outcast' kids actually lecture the wicked Christians on the truth about God's love.  Funny, I somehow knew that truth all the time.  Only the Christians in movies don't ever seem to get it; they somehow miss the whole "God so loved the world" part and only know about hell and damnation.  I guess all the Bibles in Hollywood must have been expurgated by the MPAA for objectionable content.

The sad part is, there are some genuinely good moments in the film.  When it forgets its vendetta against all who believe in God and just lets the kids be kids and talk about real life and real problems and real situations, it kind of gets it right.  The cast of young stars is extremely talented...and frankly, I enjoyed seeing a grown up Macaulay Culkin leaving his cute-kid years comfortably behind and emerging as an actor of substance.  Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, Patrick Fugit...all of them did terrific work; no fault there.

I guess the moral is that the world would be a much better place if Christians weren't getting in the way of the non-Christians who are TRULY practicing what Jesus preached.  If that tickles your funny bone, then go forth and have a grand time with Saved.  For some, it's a punchline that will cause heartache, but don't let that concern you...maybe we just don't have a sense of humor.

Video ***

This is a nice anamorphic offering from MGM, although you can tell in the margins that you're looking at a fairly low budget film.  Colors are generally vibrant and realistic, but some darker images lose a bit of detail in the translation.  Lighter ones, of which there are plenty, render with a lot more clarity and cleanness.

Audio ***

The 5.1 soundtrack works well...though it's mostly a dialogue oriented film, there are some bigger scenes that bring both front and rear stages into play, plus a good song score that keeps the dynamic range up and the subwoofer engaged.

Features ****

MGM is one of the more generous studios when it comes to packaging their discs with extras, and Saved is no exception.  The disc starts with two commentary tracks:  the one with director Brian Dannelly, co-writer Michael Urban and producer Sandy Stern is the more informative and attentive to detail; the one with stars Jena Malone and Mandy Moore is more along the lines of wasn't he/she great and oh what fun we had.

There is a REALLY short production featurette which delves into nothing, followed by 11 deleted scenes, 5 bloopers, and 5 "revelations", which are essentially planned bloopers.  There is also a trailer for this and other MGM releases.

Summary:

Saved is a film that is simply looking to have fun at the expense of a specifically and deliberately targeted group of people, and it will only serve to further hurtful stereotypes under the alias of a harmless teen comedy.  As long as movies like this are produced, distributed, praised and eaten up by critics and moviegoers alike, and no one anywhere seems to think there's anything wrong with it, we're still a long way from the light at the end of the tunnel.

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