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About an Ex-ex-Deadhead

Movie Review: Salvation Boulevard (2011)
Summary: After an accidental shooting, a man discovers just how far a church will go to defend their pastor.
Spoilers: none


Salvation Boulevard is the gleefully titled sort of movie that refuses to let audiences down by giving them exactly what they want—a religious scandal. “How art thou fallen from heaven!” (Isaiah 14:12)

Who doesn’t like a good religious scandal? Such movies gratify the average moviegoer. They embolden the strictly religious. They give unbelievers cause to sneer. Everyone wins…except for the scorned religious scoundrel brought to his knees. These films are clear evidence of a time-tested formula for intelligent amusement.

In this case, we have Pierce Brosnan as “Reverend Dan Day,” a charismatic megachurch preacher, best-selling author, and religious fat-cat in the inner-circle of success and in better than good standing with a community that absolutely adores him.

From the movie’s opening, we meet “Carl Vanderveer” (Greg Kinnear), an ex-drug-addict and former Grateful Dead fan who has been proudly born-again as a believer, and who happens to be the pride and joy of Rev. Dan.

When he is not raving about “God’s transforming power” to bring the wayward like Carl to Christ, Rev. Dan is emphatically speaking with empty verbiage, pious clichés, and airy platitudes about the same substance-less stuff that the charismatic churches rave on about. Only, he does a worse job at it.

We get to know the handsome and well-groomed reverend on the debate platform with opposing atheist professor “Dr. Paul Blaylock” (Ed Harris). After the debate, the three retire to the professor’s study and toss around ideas for further polemic exchanges. This is where unintended tragedy strikes when a loaded gun in the hand of the minister goes off by mistake.

With a motionless professor lying on the ground and Dan and Carl standing over him, a decision is made to bury the truth. The only problem is, the decision to withhold the truth wasn’t Carl’s, but Pastor Dan’s. The only question then is how long the truth will stay buried, and when it finally comes out, which of the two men will be fingered as the responsible party.

Gregg Kinnear, Jim Gaffigan

New Christian Carl gets a divine lesson in what devoted parishioners will do for their esteemed men of faith. A perfect example of such a man is “Jerry Hobson” (Jim Gaffigan). He’s your church techie type who fully invests his talents for the Lord before offering to go beyond the call of duty to save the church from the likes of Carl, who is once again viewed as a no-good, sinning junkie who obviously had a drug relapse and pulled the trigger. But Jerry is only one among many servants of the Lord hell-bent on believing their elect man of God can do no wrong.

With his past working against him, even Carl’s wife, “Gwen” (Jennifer Connelly) is having doubts about his version of the events. Gwen’s father (Ciarán Hinds) is more than a little suspicious of Carl because of his past. Carl meets “Honey Foster” (Marisa Tomei), a university security guard. She is his only listening ear, but she’s of little help to him.

But every powerful preacher has his enemies and Pastor Day is no exception. When Carl and Dan run into “Jorge De Vaca” (Yul Vazquez), the plot takes on a second level of dimension that really kicks it into overdrive.

Salvation Boulevard is an example of a strong-handed dark comedy. Audiences may or may not be ready for it. And while the screenplay appears to fight its own battles with melodrama, what stands out immediately is that Brosnan does not play a good minister. The performances are generally not problematic. Some even rise to the level of good (Connelly, Hines, Tomei, Kinnear).

What is problematic: Brosnan. In addition to his character suffering from a malnourished script, he feels like an amateur actor, purposely embellishing his words and sentences with pronunciation that tries too hard to convey that he’s supposed to be a faith-filled holy-roller preacher.

Comedian-turned-actor Jim Gaffigan is sellable as your typical devoted admirer. Beyond some overacted excerpts, he is the do-or-die committed believer of the sort that every church considers themselves blessed to have a few of. Because of men like this, the Inquisition happened.


With the plot gradually thickening, we have only a few setbacks. Most of these are the result of distractions with regard to the acting. But we have a script that goes a long way toward utilizing its full potential. Connelly’s is by far the best performance here. And despite the sometimes-angering drama of the subject matter, the movie will not fail to draw its share of soft laughs.

The way the film characterizes the religious will for sure be offensive to many. This is not just comedy, mind you, but a rip at the expense of the deeply faith-filled and how their subservience makes the world stupider (on a lighter note) and more corrupt (on a more serious note). Regardless of how you receive it, the fact remains that there are people this nutty, and we love to read and hear about them.

The film comes to us from a 2008 novel by Larry Beinhart sharing the same title, but it deviates drastically from its source material. It is not a true story, although it has the audacity to end in now-common “mockumentary” style. This is in character with the whole film—a funny and thoroughly entertaining piece.

(JH)

Grade: B- (3 stars)
Rated: R (for some language, violence, drug material, and brief sexual content)
Director: George Ratliff
Starring: “Gwen Vanderveer” (Jennifer Connelly), “Dr. Paul Blaylock” (Ed Harris), “Honey Foster” (Marisa Tomei), “Dan Day” (Pierce Brosnan), “Joe Hunt” (Ciarán Hinds), “Angie Vanderveer” (Isabelle Fuhrman), “Carl Vanderveer” (Greg Kinnear), “Jerry Hobson” (Jim Gaffigan), “Jorge Guzman De Vaca” (Yul Vazquez)
Genre:  Comedy / Thriller
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