The Wrong Street to Turn Onto
Starring: Greg Kinnear, Pierce Brosnan
Review by Robert Patrick
“Salvation Boulevard” at it’s core is an exploration of hubris, self-preservation, megalomania. Director George Ratliff isn’t overtly attacking any sort of ideology head-on, though it may seem, at first glance, that he is throwing “Religulous”-like cocktails at Christianity. Really, the movie is about people treating other people badly, whether ideology is involved or not, Ratliff says in the press notes. This approach makes the movie exponentially more effective for the director, as it is a safe card to play, but there is a feeling that he is stifling himself in order to please all audiences. You can tell that Ratliff clearly doesn’t mind making jokes, behind his clasped palms, at the sake of religion when he can – the backdrop wouldn’t exist if he didn’t – but he never takes chances with his script. Unfortunately, the satire is too easy in the context of churches and white-knuckled prayer sessions, when its unable to commit itself to the subject matter, to nick any funny bones. “Saved,” a film that dealt with similar material, came out to tepid results as well. The problem is that you either slide your chips in the middle of that oak table, going all in on a joke, or you back away altogether. “Dogma” went all the way. “Salvation Boulevard,” like its predecessor “Saved,” doesn’t want to push any hot keys even if their fingers are hovering over them. Instead we get half-baked jokes that look dated as soon as they fall off the actor’s lips.
The film follows Carl (Greg Kinnear), a once Grateful Dead follower, whose primary goal, as we meet him in the film, is to renew his life through a mega-church. Dan Day (Pierce Brosnan), the pastor of the church, is secretly callow and extraordinarily self-indulgent, but his flock sees him as charismatic and grounded gentleman of God. Day finds the perfect vessel in the dog-eyed Carl when he uses the malleable member as an example of how Christ – or more specifically the church – can change people. When the manicured persona of Day is about to become tainted, the allegedly benevolent pastor throws Carl under the bus in order to save his image. In turn, Carl, perpetually dumbfounded and conflicted, finds himself on the run from bible wielding zealots.
Pierce Brosnan’s dapper exterior, steady brow, confident tonal range makes him an absolute shoe-in for the role of a fraudulent pastor. Brosnan’s unexpected humor benefits from his sterile appearance and jutting seriousness. There are scenes here that are comedy gold (see if you can hold back from chuckling as Brosnan, fearfully backpedaling in his seat, quivers over the sight of a demon in Ridley Scott’s “Legend”). Greg Kinnear, on the other hand, does nothing more than let his eyebrows do the acting. I suppose the thespian’s emotive eyes and wandering voice are perfect for a character whose life is little more than a snuffed out cigarette at a Grateful Dead show. Kinnear’s acting ability, if any, is moot when it comes to the script; a garden gnome could essentially play his role. Other players, such as Jennifer Connolly and Marisa Tomei, are given little to do, during their screen time, and ham it up whenever they’re onscreen. Even Jim Gaffigan, the mad hatter of stand-up comedy, is criminally underused.
“Salvation Boulevard” plays like it has never seen a test audience. And while it is amusing to see Brosnan and Kinnear pair up again, for the second time ever since “The Matador,” the soil isn’t nearly as fertile this go around. The chemistry blows up in everyone’s faces, sadly, and most of the film, no matter what the situation, feels awkward and gamy. Ratliff, who based his movie upon a novel written by Larry Beinhart, doesn’t know his punchlines from his set-ups. Aside from a bushel of humorous Brosnan moments, “Salvation Boulevard” will only go down in price, not history, when it finds itself in a Wal-Mart bargain bin.