Everybody knows the saying, "two wrongs don’t make a right". Well, apparently everybody except the poor folks behind the cinematic disaster that is Saved!. That’s the only excuse I can think of to explain how this movie made it from script to screen. Somewhere in the jumbled mess of over-the-top characters and ridiculously conceived plot points, lay two completely different films, neither very well done. When the two are forced together, the result is something that can’t decide whether it wants to be a satirical comedy or a meaningful coming-of-age story. In the midst of its schizophrenic episode it loses any control over the ability to become either. Mary (Jena Malone) and Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore) are two best friends who attend a gaudy Christian high school and play together in the school’s Christian band. For both, life is sickeningly sweet and ridiculously simplified. Mary is even in love with the perfect Christian boyfriend, Dean (Chad Faust). As the summer before their senior year comes to a close, paradise gets lost when Dean reveals to Mary that he thinks he might be gay. Grossly misinterpreting a mistakenly divine vision, Mary takes drastic measures and makes a pity lay of Dean, risking her own virginity in the hopes of helping to secure his heterosexuality.
Mary’s plan backfires when Dean’s parents discover his secret and send him away for counseling. To make matters worse, she discovers that their one-time encounter has left her with a bundle on the way. Believing that Jesus himself has misled her, Mary’s faith in everything that she’s been raised to believe immediately disappears. She begins to question everything in life and quickly learns who her true friends are.
Hilary Faye’s wheelchair bound brother, Roland (Macaulay Culkin), and his rebellious girlfriend Cassandra (Eva Amurri), (who happens to be the only Jewish student on campus) befriend Mary when Hilary Faye and the rest of the high and mighty student body seem to be turning their backs. Meanwhile, the school’s principal, Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan), whose disintegrated marriage has left him to fly solo raising son Patrick (Patrick Fugit), struggles with his romantic feelings for Mary’s mother Lillian (Mary-Louise Parker). To top it all off, Patrick finds himself falling for Mary, despite Hilary Faye’s attempts to draw his affections her own way.
If the plot sounds like a misguided, twisted blend of “Seventh Heaven” and “Beverly Hills 90210”, then you’re not far from understanding all that there is know about Saved!. Writer/director Brian Dannelly would probably like you to believe that there is something more inspired in the plot’s combination of comedy and drama, but ultimately he offers a movie that defeats itself at every turn. The film’s dependence on insipid humor leaves it too shallow to float its rather weak story of teenagers coming to terms with who they are. The problem works both ways. The coming-of-age story takes such heavy turns that the comedic moments feel completely out of place.
A huge tragedy in this film is its utter waste of talent. The teen actors involved turn in what may very well be some of the best performances of their young careers. Dannelly plays the pied piper with the young bunch as they happily follow him along like lambs to the slaughter. If they weren’t having so much fun delving into the quirkiness of their characters and splashing about in easy to play spoofs, they might actually have time to perceive how disappointingly devoid of any redeeming qualities their movie really is.
Too shallow to make you care, too trite to hold your interest, and too absurd to make you laugh, Saved! is a black hole of a film that will leave you pining to have the two hours of your life back, with interest. Much like the characters in the story, the extras on this disc do a lot of talking, but it’s mostly hot air. What seems like an impressive list of bonus material turns out to be very short, very uninteresting bits and baubles that are a total waste of time.
There are two commentaries to listen in on. Actors Jena Malone and Mandy Moore gather around the tube for a slumber-party style commentary. Apart from discussions of how fun the movie was to make, there’s not much to their conversation. Unless you’re a teenage girl in love with Mandy Moore, or you’re dying to hear how Jena made the entire film crew strip to their boxers to lighten the mood during her intimate scene with Chad Faust, you’ll be better off skipping this one. The other, slightly less frivolous track, is the commentary with director/writer Brian Dannelly, producer Sandy Stern, and co-writer Michael Urban. Most of their conversation circles around how difficult it was to get the PG-13 rating that they felt was crucial to draw the right crowd to their movie. The one benefit to watching either commentary discussion is that it drowns out the film’s dialogue.
There are a handful of deleted scenes to watch. Not surprisingly, they hold all of the film’s intelligent dialogue. If those producing the DVD had been kind, they would have offered a function where these little gems could be inserted back into the film as you watched. Instead, they decided to insult your intelligence by splitting the deleted material into two different categories, placing the stuff that would have cost them the PG-13 rating in a section called ”Revelations”. This splitting up of chopped scenes is pure DVD menu padding if I ever saw it.
There is a short blooper reel that is boring at best. It’s actually more of a montage of bad takes or actors acting up. None of it is funny, except for a briefly inspired moment of passion between Culkin and Fugit. I’m almost certain that there were far more interesting moments that could have been included in this collection, but they might have made the actors look bad….heaven forbid.
“Heaven Help Us”, the movie’s brief making-of-featurette, is the only bonus item worth watching. There’s not a whole lot to see, but it gives you your only chance to really see behind the scenes and get somewhat candid feedback from the cast.
With a DVD like this, you’re bound to find an easter egg or two. My mind, thoroughly numb after watching the film a third time for the commentaries, rendered me utterly incapable of doing anything but running my mouse over the menu screens until I found some hidden gems. Look carefully and you’ll find the director pitching you the script in a mocking “this will change and save your life” message. I’d tell you how to find it, but I wouldn’t want to ruin your search for the true meaning of this movie.
If you missed this show in theatres, count your blessings. If you’re offered the chance to watch it on DVD, just say no. You’ll be glad you did.
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