Salvation Boulevard – Movie Review

Silly, predictable and as funny as the funny business of religion can be.

Emerging director George Ratliff pulls one out of the hat with two great performances by Greg Kinnear and Pierce Brosnan. In this hilarious poke at major organized religion the streets of America are paved with more gold than heaven itself, for the enterprising evangelical. The trick is to convert the magic of the pulpit into the magic of the profit and these protagonists may not be quite up to the challenge.

The screenplay is based on the book by Larry Beinhart, the man responsible for the novel “American Hero.” Although you may not remember the book, it spawned the great political satire “Wag the Dog” starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert DeNiro, one of the classic political parodies of the silver screen.

This film is every bit as precise in its skewering of the fat-cat religious establishment as “Wag the Dog” was harpooning big business politicos. Moreover, it is good deal funnier.

Golden Globe nominated Brosnan puts out a thoroughly entertaining performance as revivalist preacher Dan Day. Reverend Day is the head of one of the biggest jokes in modern religious practice, the full-blown multi-media mega-church. He is at the top of his game, rich, and planning on getting quite a bit richer.

Day’s church is big, however it is approaching the limits that even state-of-the-art corporate religion can support. The next step is to convert the church into an entire evangelical dream city. The best example would be Albert Speer’s model for a New Berlin except set in small town Western America.

Reverend Day is ready to go ahead with this plan when he is approached by nemesis Dr. Paul Blaylock (Ed Harris) with a book deal that is too good to turn down. When a fondled antique pistol does the wrong thing, Dan has to scramble for a solution. The answer is as close as his BMW.

Kinnear plays Carl Vanderveer who, with his wife Gwen (Jennifer Connelly), has joined the church looking for salvation. At least looking for a tolerable life without daily doses of hallucinogenic.

They have suspended disbelief in the hallows of the church and look forward to cherishing the normal life it promises. Greg Kinnear was nominated for both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for supporting actor in “As Good as It Gets” and he also starred in “Little Miss Sunshine.” He is as good in this film as in either of those.

Trying to put his drug addled past behind, in favor of a new dialog with the creative spirit, Carl rejects his former hippie girlfriend Honey Foster (Marisa Tomei) who is now a security guard for the church. He will find out what friends are for when he is on the run from the zombie-like brain dead who form the church’s most trusted inner circle.

Filmmakers are constantly on the lookout for topics and subjects to satirize. Although politics is a perennial favorite it is not keeping up with the comedy potential of the mega-religion. The rate of arrest and exposure of morally bankrupt religious leaders is approaching that of morally bankrupt politicians.

The potential is too good to pass up and the organized religion genre has not been milked nearly as much as has its corrupt political counterpart. This film helps even the score.

Yul Vazquez of “American Gangster” joins this cast as, well, a gangster. He is a good one, too, although a little slow on the uptake which is the way we like our gangsters. From what we can tell, Brosnan seems to have had a heck of a good time in this movie.

He is a very talented actor who does not do enough outright absurdist comedy. It is great to see him flex his muscles in that direction. Kinnear plays a role that is more conventional for him. Although he is not as hilarious as Brosnan, he is even more thoroughly professional.

The small parts for Tomei and Harris will make their fans weep for more. Unfortunately, not everybody can have the entire screen, all the time. Organized religion is always a gold mine for satire and this film pumps out the riches as if there were no tomorrow.

The tone and energy of the film is reminiscent of the recent political spoof “Casino Jack.” Fast paced and funny in every scene.

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Directed by: George Ratliff
Written by: Douglas Stone (screenplay), George Ratliff (screenplay), and 1 more credit »
Starring: Greg Kinnear, Pierce Brosnan and Marisa Tomei
Release Date: July 15, 2011
MPAA: Not Rated
Runtime: 87 minutes
Country: USA
Language: English
Color: Color