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cast: Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin, Patrick Fugit, and Martin Donovan

director: Brian Dannelly

89 minutes (15) 2004
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
MGM DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Emma French
Saved! belongs to a tiresomely familiar genre: the American high school comedy. As with all contemporary re-workings of this hoary format, a twist is required. In this case, the school is a strictly Christian environment, populated by evangelical teenagers keen to suppress their animal urges in the name of Jesus and to silence the dissenting voices of occasional rebels such as a chain-smoking Jewish girl.

Jena Malone's central performance as secretly pregnant teen Mary in a deeply judgemental environment is touching and plausible, although the premise of her sexual misdemeanour, an attempt to turn her gay boyfriend Dean straight, is ludicrous. The promise that Malone displayed as a young actress in Donnie Darko is realised here in a larger and more demanding part. Macaulay Culkin, playing the wheelchair-bound agnostic Roland, appears to have been hired more as a recognisable star in a cast of relative unknowns than for any depth or interest that he brings to his role. Martin Donovan's performance as Pastor Skip is obvious and one-dimensional, and his attempt to convey 'conflicted' emotions at the end of the film is notably embarrassing.

Mary-Louise Parker appears lost in her role as Mary's mother Lillian. Presumably intended to highlight her human fallibility, her range of lapses from a strict moral code render her attempts to assume the moral high ground with her daughter not so much hypocritical as unbelievable, and inexplicable in terms of what we have been led to believe about her character. As with nearly all of the central performers, her motivation remains muddled and opaque from the beginning to end of this picture. Mandy Moore's performance as Bible-bashing prom queen Hilary Faye is a weak caricature. The high school bitch with problems of her own has been played many, many times, nearly always more effectively than Moore plays her in Saved!

There are a number of DVD extras, including four notably unfunny bloopers and the theatrical trailer. The Revelations section is an interesting concept, in which secrets from the film are revealed, including gems like "what's behind Roland's comic book?" (a porn magazine), and "what's Hilary Faye really looking at?" (her brother in a clinch with his new girlfriend). The audio commentary by director/ co-writer Brian Dannelly, producer Sandy Stern and co-writer Mike Urban is by far the best feature, with enthusiastic insights and much interesting trivia about the making of the film. Their passion for the subject matter and fond recollections of how each scene was filmed are rather poignant given the mediocrity of the final product.

The extra feature Heaven Help Us has the cast and production team discussing the film's merits in a self-congratulatory way. Jena Malone and Mandy Moore in particular make gushing comments at every possible juncture. The brief feature's other memorable element is plugs for the film from REM front man and co-producer Michael Stipe. There are also six alternative/deleted/extended scenes, including the brief and dull 'Lillian packs lunch' and an unnecessarily prolonged version of 'Pastor Skip's down with God.' Although the reason for the exclusion or alteration of these scenes rapidly becomes clear, there were arguably a number of other scenes left in the film that belonged on the cutting room floor. All in all this package is less than the sum of its parts, but it is to be hoped that the writers and director go on to use their obvious talents more productively.

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