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Lack of depiction of spirituality dooms 'Saved!'

| Friday, June 11, 2004

"Saved!" blends two sub-genres that could use a rest -- one permanently.

One is the high school comedy about a clique of snobby girls who turn all of the others into outsiders. It arrives monthly now, most recently and perhaps most efficiently under the title "Mean Girls," where the heroines encountered an "in" group called the Plastics.

The other is the youth comedy that demonizes Christianity in virtually any form as being thoroughly intolerant and paradoxically anti-Christian. In the recent "Latter Days," a promiscuous gay man seduces a young Mormon elder, whose sexual activity is discovered, infuriating his mom.

German-born, Baltimore-raised director Brian Dannelly, who co-wrote the screenplay with partner Michael Urban, sets "Saved!" in suburban Baltimore's (fictional) American Eagle Christian High School.

The self-possessed graduating senior Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore) rules high-handedly with a condescending, hypocritical, evangelistic fervor.

The most well-meaning of the girls is Mary (Jena Malone), who learns that boyfriend Dean (Chad Faust) is gay and tries to save him by seducing him.

Dean's parents ship him off to a treatment center called Mercy House -- naturally, he bunks with another gay boy -- while a now-pregnant Mary, reminded of the Blessed Mother's virgin birth, resolves to have her baby and go back to being a virgin.

Hilary Faye may organize a meeting to pray patronizingly for the absentee Dean, but she's being thwarted on other fronts.

Her insouciant paraplegic brother Roland (Macaulay Culkin) is spinning his wheelchair tires over Cassandra Edelstein (Eva Amurri, Susan Sarandon's daughter), the only Jewish girl in the school, whom the film is careful to depict as a heroic renegade.

Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan) is too busy warding off Mary's mother, the amorous widow Lillian (Mary-Louise Parker), to heed Hilary Faye's alarmist rants.

Although "Saved!" suggests it intends only for the nicer Christians to give a comeuppance to mean-spirited zealots, it indulges in the insensitivity and lack of temperance it pretends to denounce.

There is not a frame in the film suggesting true spirituality. The zealots are loaded with stereotypical qualities designed to suggest that structured belief systems engender intolerance.

Mary's crisis of faith, never taken seriously, is dismissed by the arrival of a straight boyfriend. Hilary Faye is brought down by screenwriting contrivances.

Imagine if the script had balanced its portrayals and taken seriously the issues it raised while ribbing both sides instead of one. Or is the assumption that that would be too confusing and that the audience couldn't be manipulated so readily• Additional Information:

Details

'Saved!'

Director : Brian Dannelly

Stars : Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin

MPAA rating : PG-13 for strong thematic issues involving teens -- sexual content, pregnancy, smoking and language

Two stars

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