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(2004) (Jenna Malone, Mandy Moore) (PG-13)

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Comedy: After becoming pregnant following her attempts to cure her boyfriend of his homosexuality, a teen finds her fundamentalist beliefs tested.
Mary (JENNA MALONE) is a born-again Christian who lives with her single mom Lillian (MARY-LOUISE PARKER) and attends a Christian school with her best friend Hilary Faye (MANDY MOORE). Things are going well for Mary until her boyfriend Dean (CHAD FAUST) tells her that he's gay.

Believing that God wants her to cure him of that condition, Mary has sex with him. The cure doesn't work, but she ends up pregnant. When Dean's parents find out about him being a homosexual, they send him off to the rehabilitative Mercy Hospital, but Mary manages to keep her little surprise a secret.

That is, except from Cassandra (EVA AMURRI), the school's lone Jewish student who looks down on the school, its students and their fundamentalist ways. Her best friend is Roland (MACAULAY CULKIN), Hilary's wheelchair bound brother who also attends the school but falls more in line with Cassandra than his evangelical sister.

Cassandra doesn't blow Mary's cover, especially since she likes Patrick (PATRICK FUGIT), the new student who also happens to be the son of Pastor Skip Wheeler (MARTIN DONOVAN) who runs the school. As Mary finds her religious beliefs shaken and must deal with her pregnancy as well as Hilary's followers including Tia (HEATHER MATARAZZO) and Veronica (ELIZABETH THAI), Cassandra and Roland set out to bring about his sister's downfall.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
The funny thing about parodies and satires is, if conceived and executed properly, they're actually sometimes quite good. The sobering thing about them -- regardless of whether they're successful or not -- is that those who are the targets of such humor don't always see the jokes or think that they're amusing. And the more hot button of an issue that a film pokes fun at, the more hostile the reaction of the targeted is likely to be.

Considering that the comedy "Saved!" makes fun of religion and in particular, fundamentalism, I can only imagine the impassioned reaction it's probably going to generate. All of which is too bad because 1) life's too short to take things so seriously, 2) it's just a movie, 3) and if your faith is strong you should be able to ignore the gibes.

Then there's the fact that the filmmakers -- writer/director Brian Dannelly (making his feature debut) and co-writer Michael Urban (ditto) -- actually pull in the satirical reigns a bit and allows this effort to turn into a gentler comedy that ends on somewhat of a pro-religion note. The result nevertheless probably won't sit well with fundamentalist viewers and likely won't find a large audience in any event. Yet, for those looking for a halfway decently written and occasionally somewhat funny film, this effort may prove to be an okay diversion.

To put things in perspective, the film shouldn't be as controversial as "Monty Python's Life of Brian" and its crucifixion musical number or even Kevin Smith's decidedly R-rated "Dogma." Like that latter film, however, this one has that slowly revealed, pro-religion stance. Its target then, are the ultra-fundamentalists and their quest to convert non-believers or the less devout over to their side while bashing what they see as the heathens and degenerates of the world. If that sentence or the thought of a comedy based on it bothers you, it might be wise to stop reading and simply skip the film.

For those still with us, the satire begins by having the title character being Mary who suddenly finds herself pregnant. It's not from the immaculate branch of reproduction, but rather the "cure the gay boyfriend" variety. Considering the genre, it isn't surprising that her faith in her religion will be jolted, or that her former friends of the same ilk will suddenly look down on her.

The comedic sparks then fly from all of those clashing elements and the efforts of a few insider outsiders to bring down the person they view as the big bad ringleader. And she's played by non other than Mandy Moore ("Chasing Liberty," "A Walk to Remember") who's surprisingly game to poke fun at her usually high value and religious persona.

While I wouldn't proclaim any of the material as being anywhere near brilliant, it does generate some laughs, albeit mostly one-sided ones. If there's a major flaw to the film -- beyond running out of satirical steam long before the end credits roll -- it's that it's too obvious in its agenda.

Yes, anyone can take aim at any group they want, but if you're going to do it and not look like you're shooting fish in a barrel, it's best to give the "opposition" a fighting chance. Here, all of the fundamentalists are portrayed as villains, buffoons and/or hypocrites (such as the married man of the cloth who finds himself attracted to another woman). To those not offended by such portrayals, some of that's funny for a bit, but the one-dimensional aspect of it all eventually wears thin and then through, exposing those behind the attack.

Frank Burns' character in "M*A*S*H" could be described the same way as the characters here, but at least the writers occasionally injected a little explanation and/or humanity into his actions, thus making him a lovable villain. That's not the case here and the result begins to show, particularly in the second half.

That isn't meant to imply, however, that the film's "good guys" are flawless characters. Instead, they arrive with their own dirty laundry and baggage. Nevertheless, their peccadilloes are supposed to be acceptable and/or forgivable since they're on the side of exposing the others' vanity, hypocrisy and such.

Chief among them is the paralyzed brother of Moore's character -- decently played by Macaulay Culkin ("The Good Son," the "Home Alone" films) -- and the lone Jew at the school played by the equally good Eva Amurri ("The Banger Sisters"). Equipped with some snarky dialogue, the two are the film's most interesting characters, although that's somewhat by default.

Moore is stuck with her one-dimensional villainess character, while Martin Donovan ("Agent Cody Banks," "Insomnia") plays the roving pastor and Mary-Louise Parker ("Red Dragon," "The Portrait of a Lady") is the protagonist's single mother who draws his attention.

The Mary character is embodied by Jenna Malone ("Cold Mountain," "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys") who's decent in the part, but never manages to break free and shine at any particular moment. I know that's the design of the film -- to have her questioning everything -- but having a mediocre lead character doesn't do much to spruce things up. Patrick Fugit ("White Oleander," "Almost Famous") plays the pastor's son who arrives at school and draws her interest (during which she must hide her pregnancy from him), and is okay if unmemorable in the role.

It's been a long while since I saw the film and while I remember finding it moderately entertaining with some decent and snappy lines of dialogue and material, the passage of time has pretty much erased most any memory of any specific bit that made me feel that way. Okay for a while but eventually spinning its wheels in its own satirical mire, "Saved!" needs an AAA-style push or jumpstart to get it back on track and delivering the witty laughs. Alas, that doesn't occur. The film rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed March 4, 2004 / Posted May 28, 2004

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