Sony // 2011 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // October 18th, 2012
Faith alone doesn't cut it anymore.
"Where does religion come from? It comes from fear."
Megachurch Pastor Dan Day (Pierce Brosnan, The Tailor of Panama) has just concluded a debate with the famed atheist Professor Peter Blaylock (Ed Harris, The Rock). In a gesture of admiration, Blaylock invites Day to join him for a drink and proposes that the two write a book together on their conflicting worldviews. Midway through their conversation, Day accidentally puts a bullet in Blaylock's brain with an antique pistol. The event is witnessed by Carl Vanderveer (Greg Kinnear, Little Miss Sunshine), a former Grateful Dead fan who left his drug-fueled life behind and joined Pastor Day's church. Carl's initial instinct is to call the police, but the slippery preacher has other plans: he makes Blaylock's death look like an attempted suicide and instructs Carl to keep quiet. Carl reluctantly agrees, but things get even more complicated when he discovers that Day is plotting to murder him. Does Carl have any hope of escaping this increasingly tangled web of deception and corruption?
Let's not waste any time: George Ratliff's Salvation Boulevard is a bad movie. There is almost nothing worth praising about the film save for the fact that it has the generosity to not just be a regular bad movie but a spectacularly bad movie. It fails on just about every possible level, seemingly going out of its way to blow every opportunity that arises. I was quite disappointed, but I must confess that I was never really bored. It's the sort of movie that is so misguided that you can't help but marvel at how so many professional cast and crew members agreed to participate.
The film is allegedly an attack on organized religion, but that attack is so sloppily staged and bears so little resemblance to reality that any bite it might have had is lost completely. Take the film's presentation of Pastor Dan Day, for instance. At first glance, he seems like a pretty standard-issue character type: a savvy huckster who's motivated primarily by profit. Such figures have played prominent roles in films ranging from Elmer Gantry to Fletch Lives, so it's not exactly a new idea. Pastor Day is so self-serving that he has placed a cardboard cutout of himself lifting weights in the church gym and supplies the church nursery with coloring books featuring his beaming visage. The fact that Day is planning to build a sprawling Christian city (of which he will be the leader, of course) hardly comes as a surprise.
Ah, but here's where it gets interesting: Day is not actually a greedy stereotype. In fact, it seems that Day is actually another sort of stereotype altogether: the wacky, stupid, partially insane True Believer. Day is the sort of guy who becomes convinced that Satan is calling him because his phone rings just as the image of Tim Curry's character from Legend appears on his TV screen. This man is convinced that every unhappy event is a personal attack courtesy of the devil and that every happy coincidence is a blessing from heaven. It's a broad, dumb portrait of a religious leader, but one made completely baffling by the fact that it's completely at odds with the film's claim that Day is also a clever businessman. There's no way this clown could successfully manage a Krispy Kreme, much less one of the largest churches in the country.
Salvation Boulevard also suffers from the fact that it's saddled with an Idiot Plot, in which a logical resolution is prevented solely by characters acting like idiots. A seemingly nice guy decides to become a merciless assassin just because his pastor asks him to. A police investigator who could easily end the whole thing conveniently happens to be in league with a group of crazy people. Characters frequently ignore evidence that is placed in front of them just because the plot requires them to. It's incredibly exasperating, and after a while you just stop attempting to make any real sense out of what the characters are doing.
Making matters even more problematic is the fact that the film is about as miscast as any motion picture I've seen recently. Brosnan is easy to buy as a corrupt preacher, but his moments of zealotry seem entirely unconvincing. Shiftiness is Brosnan's strong suit, but mad zealotry? He plays that note about as well as Gary Busey would have played 007. Similarly, it's just painful to watch Jennifer Connelly play one of the film's dumbest characters. Connelly is a gifted actress, but she's entirely unconvincing as a shrill idiot. Greg Kinnear's trademark charm goes to waste, as he's saddled with the role of a dopey, confused ex-Deadhead. Kinnear constantly looks as if he's just been hit over the head with a 2x4, hardly a shade that plays to his strengths. Ciaran Hinds is asked to essentially reprise Chris Cooper's role from American Beauty ("But try to be even less subtle," I imagine the director instructing him), and Marisa Tomei doesn't seem to know what to do with her pot-loving character. The only one who emerges from this mess with his dignity intact is Ed Harris, but that probably has a lot to do with the fact that he spends most of the movie in a coma.
The DVD transfer is pretty underwhelming, as detail is mediocre and the image can look a little smeared at times. Colors are bright and vibrant, however. The Dolby 5.1 Surround track cranks up the irritating original score (which underlines every bit of comedy in as obvious a manner as possible) a bit too loud, but dialogue is clear and the minimal sound design is well-distributed. No supplements are included.
In one scene, Salvation Boulevard jokes about the possibility of Christian cinemas (devoted only to showing painfully earnest Christian movies) popping up all over the country. However, in its own way, this misguided and poorly-crafted anti-religion flick is every bit as painful as the worst Kirk Cameron movie. At least those heavy-handed sermons seem to know what they're trying to say.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R