At first glance, Saved! looks like the comedy antidote to the piety of Mel's Passion. Look closer though and you'll see that this Christian-school satire is as irreverent as letting one off during a Sunday service. Sure, a lot of the barbs have bite, but they don't leave any teeth marks. Disappointing? Definitely - - and the same goes for the film's second-half conversion to feelgood formula, preachy sentiment and pat resolutions. In other words, all the teen-pic pitfalls you'd prayed it would avoid.
It's a shame that debut helmer/co-writer Brian Dannelly doesn't wrestle his subject with the same conviction as his cast. Who are, not to put too fine a point on it, the saviours of Saved!. It's easy to laugh at Jena Malone's Mary, her devout naïveté mocked in swimming-pool visions of the Messiah. But after becoming pregnant via her gay beau, she grows into an affecting heroine, Malone's pensive performance bringing more depth to the character's disillusionment than is apparent on the script's surface.
Mining the big chuckles is left to the other players. There's Martin Donovan's down-with-the-kids Pastor Skip (""Jesus is in the house!"") and Eva Amurri's Cassandra, a rebel Jew who drinks and talks in tongues just to get a rise out of the happy-clappys. Best of all, though, is Mandy Moore. Yes, that Mandy Moore, the nice-girl singer-star crucifying her image as ferociously funny Bible bully Hilary Faye: (""I am filled with Christ's love!"" she bawls, hurling the Good Book at Mary to make her point).
Spirited turns then, but this is ultimately a lukewarm pop at hardline US fundamentalism. (The real thing does a much better job of sending itself up.) The Jesus jibes might inspire a few giggles, but it's hard to worship something that ends up embracing an all-too-familiar filmic creed.