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Brian Dannelly
Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin, Patrick Fugit, Heather Matarazzo, Eva Amurri, Chad Faust, Elizabeth Thai, Martin Donovan, Mary-Louise Parker
Writing Credits:
Brian Dannelly, Michael Urban

Heaven Help Us.

Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin and Patrick Fugit head "a bright young cast" (The New York Times) in this "wickedly funny" (Variety) comedy about hype, hypocrisy and high school.

Box Office:
$5 million.
Opening Weekend
$459.386 thousand on 20 screens.
Domestic Gross
$8.786 million.

Rated PG-13

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 92 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 10/5/2004

• Audio Commentary with Director/Co-Writer Brian Dannelly, Co-Writer Michael Urban, and Producer Sandy Stern
• Audio Commentary with Actors Jena Malone and Mandy Moore
• “Heaven Help Us” Featurette
• Deleted/Extended Scenes
• Bloopers
• “Saved! Revelations”
• Theatrical Trailer
• Previews


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Saved! (2004)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 14, 2004)

In a year during which The Passion of the Christ drew skillions of devout Christians to movie theaters, is there any place for a flick that lampoons their kind? Apparently. While Saved! didn’t remotely rival Passion at the box office, it emerged as a decent attraction on the indie level. On the surface, it sounds like a good contrast to the intensely religious Passion, with something to show a side of the Christian experience, but unfortunately it falls into too many conventional traps to succeed.

The film introduces us to Christian good girl Mary (Jena Malone) who believes she lives the perfect Christian life with Dean (Chad Faust), the perfect Christian boyfriend, as a senior at American Eagle Christian High School. However, two weeks before the start of school, her life starts to change when Dean tells her he thinks he’s gay. Shocked, she bumps her head in the swimming pool and has a vision of Jesus, who tells her to help Dean. Mary attempts to save Dean through sex, as she sacrifices her virginity to assist him. Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t work, and his parents soon ship Dean off to a Christian treatment facility called Mercy House.

Mary hangs out with the other members of the “Christian Jewels”, which she refers to as a “Girl gang for Jesus”. Perky Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore) leads the trio, which also includes adopted Asian girl Veronica (Elizabeth Thai). Hilary Faye escorts around her wheelchair-bound older brother Roland (Macaulay Culkin); he attends school with them but seems more cynical and questioning.

Their class also includes a sole Jewish student, bad girl Cassandra (Eva Amurri), who got placed there after other schools bounced her and left her with nowhere else to go. All the Christians hope to save her, and none act with more zeal than the evangelical Hilary Faye. Into this setting steps moderately exotic Patrick (Patrick Fugit), the son of school leader Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan). He just returned from South American missionary work with his mother, and both Mary and Hilary Faye demonstrate romantic interest in him.

An obstacle occurs when Mary discovers the results of her dalliance with Dean: this leaves her pregnant. She tries to hide this but Cassandra and Roland - who’ve become a romantic item themselves - figure out her secret. They try to help, which combines to Mary’s anger about her pregnancy to drive her away from her previously devout feelings. This leads to a schism with Hilary Faye, who remains the same. The rest of the movie follows their conflict as well as their continued competition for Patrick and other issues.

All the promotions touted Saved! as a spoof that pokes fun at over-the-top religious zealotry. In truth, the movie does include some of those components, but it comes across much more strongly as a pretty standard teen coming of age story. Frankly, the flick flip-flops between tones so frequently that I don’t think anyone involved really knew what kind of movie they tried to make.

Actually, Saved! leaves the impression that the filmmakers wanted to snap at the born again community but failed to follow through and deliver on that concept. The film’s early portions seem harsher and more irreverent, while the flick tames itself as it progresses. Some may see this as a nice trend toward realism and a way to give the film more depth than we’d find in a simple parody.

That’s one way to look at Saved!, but it’s not the impression I took away from the film. As the movie backs off of the zingers and turns into a more emotionally based experience, it doesn’t expand and develop greater depth. If anything, the flick becomes more superficial as it progresses. It gradually loses distinctiveness and turns into little more than a standard teen coming of age tale.

This makes Saved! decidedly sappier than I expected. We get a lot of simplistic moralizing and easy character growth. The Christian setting ended up with little bearing on the proceedings; it adds a twist on the usual teen flick, but not enough to make Saved! distinctive.

To some degree, the acting helps redeem the tale, at least on the female side of things. The two main males - Fugit and Culkin - fail to do much with their roles. Culkin never could act and he still shows little skill in that regard; an occasional smirk acts as his main attempt at a performance. So likable and engaging in Almost Famous, Fugit lacks personality here. He comes across as so dull and ordinary that it never makes much sense that all the girls dig him.

On the other hand, the various female performers all shine. Amurri establishes that she doesn’t get work solely due to her status as the daughter of Susan Sarandon. She proves a sensation with her lively and dynamic performance as the wild Cassandra. Malone does her best to ground the piece with a soulful and warm turn, and Moore helps exploit the comedic potential of Hilary Faye.

Unfortunately, all the great performances in the world can’t make Saved! more coherent and less erratic. The movie has its moments and occasionally proves clever and amusing. However, it seems flat too much of the time and embraces maudlin qualities too often for it to consistently succeed.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

Saved! appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The picture betrayed its indie origins with a fairly lackluster transfer.

For the most part, sharpness came across as decent to good. Some softness interfered at times, and the movie could look slightly ill-defined. However, it mainly looked acceptably concise and distinctive. No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects popped up, but some minor to moderate edge enhancement created a few distractions. As for source flaws, more grain than usual crept into the image, and I also saw a few specks and bits of grit.

Colors tended toward the paler side of natural. The tones mostly were reasonably firm and lively, but they seemed somewhat flat on occasion. Skin tones tended toward the pinkish side of things and sometimes lacked realism. Blacks were tight and firm, and shadows usually came across as acceptably smooth and clear, though they sometimes looked a little dense. Overall, the image was more than watchable but not anything special.

I didn’t expect a lot from the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Saved!, and the mix matched what I anticipated. The soundfield remained heavily anchored in the front realm. The forward channels provided decent stereo imaging for music and effects, as sounds appeared in the appropriate locations and blended together efficiently. Not a lot of movement occurred across the speakers, but the mix seemed reasonably well integrated nonetheless. As for the surrounds, they offered light reinforcement of music and effects at most. Frankly, I usually wasn’t really aware that much audio came from the rears; the mix really did stick strongly with the front speakers.

Although the soundfield seemed bland, the quality of the audio helped compensate for any shortcomings. Dialogue appeared consistently natural and distinct, and I detected no problems related to edginess or intelligibility. Effects played a minor role in the film, but they sounded accurate and clean, with reasonable presence and no signs of distortion. Music worked fairly well, as the score and the pop tunes presented good clarity. Highs seemed crisp and bright, while bass was acceptably rich and warm. In the end, the audio was nothing special, but it suited the film.

For the DVD release of Saved!, we get a moderate mix of supplements. The disc includes two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director/co-writer Brian Dannelly, co-writer Michael Urban, and producer Sandy Stern, all of whom sit together for a running, screen-specific track. Although this piece starts out like gangbusters, it soon turns into something tedious. The participants discuss topics such as locations, casting, ratings issues, problems getting financing and shooting on a low budget, the music, and many little tidbits from the shoot. A variety of small production notes pop up throughout the piece.

That's great when they stick to those subjects, but unfortunately, they devote an inordinate amount of time to happy talk. They tell us how great all the participants were, how much they love the final product, and - in an annoyingly congratulatory tone - how much everyone else adores the flick too. This remains tolerable for the film's first act but gets more and more tiresome as it progresses; by the flick's final act, I couldn't stop rolling my eyes with every superlative. This commentary has some very good moments and probably still will be satisfying for fans of the flick, but it seems way too filled with banal praise for my liking.

In the second commentary, we hear from actors Jena Malone and Mandy Moore, both of whom also sit together for their running, screen-specific discussion. Don’t expect a lot of hard data, but the actors maintain a nicely light tone that focuses on their experiences. They talk a little about their characters and their work on the roles, but mainly they toss out memories of the shoot and the bits and pieces that went into making the flick. Inevitably, this chat includes some praise and compliments, but the actors tone things down substantially from the earlier commentary’s insipid love-fest. I can’t call this a stellar track, but it offers a nice perspective on filmmaking from two younger actors and it seems consistently engaging and enjoyable. This chipper and lively chat helps erase the sickly aftertaste left by its predecessor.

Next we get a featurette called Heaven Help Us. It lasts a mere four minutes and 20 seconds and consists of movie snippets, shots from the set, and soundbites from Dannelly, Malone, Moore, Stern, producer Michael Stipe, and actors Patrick Fugit, Heather Matarazzo, Macaulay Culkin, and Eva Amurri. It tosses out very basic plot and production comments without much depth. Don’t expect more than a glorified trailer and lots of happy talk.

After this we get 11 Deleted/Extended Scenes. These run between 24 seconds and three minutes, 41 seconds for a total of 16 minutes, 15 seconds of footage. The additions and changes seem fairly minor, and nothing terribly significant or entertaining shows up here.

Within the Bloopers section, four clips appear. These occupy a total of two minutes, eight seconds. Malone tosses out some funny improvs, and along with some other wacky moments, these are a little better than the average bloopers.

Some additional unused footage pops up under the moniker Saved! Revelations. These show us things like “What’s behind Roland’s comic book?” and “What’s Cassandra really saying?” Essentially they consist of short clips likely cut for ratings issues, as they include some saucier images and statements.

The DVD opens with a few ads. We get trailers for Wicker Park and Walking Tall. The latter also appears in the Other Great MGM Releases area along with promos for , Touching the Void, Intermission, Barbershop 2: Back in Business, Soul Plane and Dorm Daze.

One might expect a barbed and lively satirical tale from Saved!, and the movie occasionally musters some dark energy. For the most part, though, it comes across as little more than a standard, predictable teen “coming of age” story without much cleverness or intrigue. The DVD presents decent but fairly average picture and audio along with extras that offer occasional bits of useful material. A good but unexceptional DVD for a flawed movie, I can’t muster much of a recommendation for Saved!, a film that came as a disappointment.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.0714 Stars Number of Votes: 14
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