Salvation Boulevard

In Salvation Boulevard, repentant Grateful Dead follower Carl Vanderveer (Greg Kinnear) has given up his wild ways, settling down with wife Gwen (Jennifer Connelly, in the throes of some feverish acting exercise) and her teenage daughter Angie (Isabelle Fuhrman, of Orphan), where he's a lapdog member of the local super-church run by the charismatic if somewhat oily Pastor Dan Day (Pierce Brosnan). Following a debate between Dan and noted atheist author Dr. Paul Blaylock (Ed Harris), there's a terrible accident, and Dan tries to pin the blame on Carl, leading to all sorts of shenanigans.

Kinnear and Brosnan made for an intriguing pair before, in the 2005 down-tempo black comedy The Matador, but here they connect with less success. Salvation Boulevard has a certain pedigree, being based on a book by Wag the Dog author Larry Beinhart, but so much of this material doesn't rise to the level of its putative conceit. Two characters seem to initially figure more prominently into the proceedings, but fall out in the middle, only to lamely pop up again later. And when the film loops in a business contractor (Yul Vazquez) with designs on blackmailing Dan, it sags under the weight of a misguided focus.

In both his documentary Hell House and 2007's Joshua, director George Ratliff has handled religious themes before (though not always well), so it's somewhat strange that this film feels so toothless and schizophrenic — broad at times, and either unwilling or unable to commit to a darker path. More pointed religious satire would have been good, or even just crisper characterizations across the board. In a small part as a hippie security guard who crosses paths with Carl, meanwhile, Marisa Tomei gives the movie some lift. It's a source of considerable frustration that viewers can't pivot, follow her character off on another path, and look for their own salvation. (IFC Films, PG-13, 107 minutes)


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