Salvation Boulevard (IFC Films, NR)

A good film maybe still could have come from this, forced as the setup may have been, but alas that good film never arrives.

 

 

 

The jumping off point in Salvation Boulevard is that a famous Christian pastor named Dan Day (Pierce Brosnan) and a famous atheist writer named Paul Blaylock (Ed Harris) have an onstage debate, and when the debate is over they retire to Blaylock’s quarters (his office on the campus on which he teaches) to talk as friends; Blaylock suggests that they write a book together, as they are both already bestselling authors with very opposite viewpoints but who get along together at least relatively well. A good film could have come from this, but I’ve left out two contrivances: one is that they are accompanied for no reason other than to get the plot rolling by Carl Vandeveer (Greg Kinnear), ex-Grateful Dead follower. The other is that in a fit of illogicality Day is playing with one of Blaylock’s antique guns and accidentally shoots him (Blaylock). A good film maybe still could have come from this, forced as the setup may have been, but alas a good film never arrives. Day uses the trust of the Christian community to lay the blame on Carl, and Carl spends most of the rest of the movie running around like an idiot trying to decide what to do.

Salvation Boulevard is the newest film by George Ratliff, an independent director I’ve been following the career of since his documentary Hell House was released in 2001. Hell House had a lot of the same themes as Salvation Boulevard (whose screenplay is based on the Larry Beinhart novel of the same name), namely crazy, hypocritical Christians and the extreme lengths they sometimes go to. Hell House worked in that same scary, I-don’t-want-to-live-on-the-same-planet-as-these-people vibe as Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s 2006 documentary Jesus Camp, and Ratliff’s first fiction feature was 2007’s underseen Joshua, which is of the same cloth as something like The Omen or Insidious, though is not as good as either of those films (but still not bad). Under these circumstances, Salvation Boulevard seems like a good match for Ratliff’s specific directorial talents.

Here Ratliff seems to be going for an Alexander Payne vibe (more specifically somewhere between Citizen Ruth and Tom Perrotta’s book The Abstinence Teacher) that he is incapable of achieving, and he certainly isn’t helped by his cast. Watching the trailer or seeing the cast list would make one think this movie is worth seeing—it certainly does have a great ensemble, though every single one of them is miscast, save Harris (whose role is relatively tiny) and Ciarán Hinds as Carl’s father-in-law. Any movie that can so grievously misuse people like Marisa Tomei (as a hippie security guard at Blaylock’s campus whom Carl runs to for help) or Jennifer Connelly (as Carl’s wife, Gwen, who is maybe only a little less suspicious of Carl than her father) has to have some kind of voodoo curse on it.

All that aside, though, one of the things that makes Salvation Boulevard such a frustrating failure is that it’s one of those movies that would be solved if the main character just went to the police, but for some flimsy reason he refuses to. Of course if he did we wouldn’t have a movie, but that said we’d all be better off for it. | Pete Timmermann

 

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