Sunday, July 17, 2011

Movie with Abe: Salvation Boulevard

Salvation Boulevard
Directed by George Ratliff
Released July 15, 2011

Some movies find themselves at a point of no return shortly into their run times. Once something outlandish has occurred, it can be hard to turn back and recover. “Salvation Boulevard” starts out with an intriguing and somewhat eerie video featuring former Dead Head Carl Vanderveer (Greg Kinnear) explaining how he came to find salvation. Fifteen minutes later, however, a man has been accidentally shot and the road to a cover-up means plenty of over-the-top shenanigans, a complete departure from any form of seriousness, and only occasional interactions with coherence.

Some films that aim to satirize religion seem to feel the need to starkly portray their characters in a certain way and to ensure that the events around them are equally intense and spectacular. Yet trying too hard can produce unfavorable results, as is the case with Pierce Brosnan’s Pastor Dan Day, a caricature of a preacher whose church is filled by legions of fans each week. While many would question Brosnan’s skills as a serious actor, understandably so, that’s not the root of the problems of his character. It’s hard to take him at face value since he seems so excessive in nearly every situation, and the film’s wild storyline doesn’t help matters at all.

“Salvation Boulevard” is trying to do too many things at the same time: to offer a parody of religious zealots and to weave a conspiracy story. It’s far more effective at the former than the latter, but attempting to put the two together detracts greatly from both. It’s hard to care about any of the characters since they’re all so detestable, and even the decently interesting ones, like Marisa Tomei’s security guard and overt Dead Head Honey Foster, are poorly written and relatively inconsequential. There’s no one to root for and plenty of people to dislike, and as a result it’s an entirely off-putting and unengaging story.

Aside from Brosnan, the cast is in theory fairly good, though few of them make much of an impression. Kinnear is doe-eyed and easily distracted, but hardly makes for a formidable lead. Ed Harris has an intriguing role, as an atheist author, but there isn’t much for him to do. Jennifer Connelly, whose career following her Oscar-winning turn in “A Beautiful Mind” has been puzzling and disappointing at best, tries hard as Carl’s excitable and devout wife Gwen, and she does a good job with meager material. Isabelle Fuhrman, who plays Gwen’s young daughter Angie, is the film’s standout, crafting a compelling character out of very little, imbuing at least one person in the film with some energy. There isn’t much to be found in this film save for hyperbole and an illustration of just what happens when parody goes too far.


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