Review: Salvation Boulevard (Sundance)
PLOT: Dan Day (Pierce Brosnan) is a charismatic pastor, and the head of a massive born-again Christian movement. Day’s got his hands in all sorts of schemes, including a major land deal for a controlled Christian community. The only fly in his ointment is the meddling of a local, atheist university professor, Dr. Paul Blaylock (Ed Harris) who openly mocks Day’s church, and challenges him to a series of debates. During a private meeting, Day accidently shoots Blaylock with one of the professor’s antique guns, and he tries to shift the blame to one of his devotees; a born-again Dead-head named Carl Vanderveer (Greg Kinnear), who’s wife Gwen (Jennifer Connelly) views Pastor Day as a new messiah.
REVIEW: SALVATION BOULEVARD has all the ingredients of a sure-fire satiric classic. It has a relevant plot; involving mega-churches as big-business, a hot cast including the first re-teaming of Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear since the great THE MATADOR, and a young director, George Ratliff, who previously directed the acclaimed doc HELL HOUSE, and the Sundance hit JOSHUA.
Sure enough, for the first half hour of SALVATION BOULEVARD I thought I was watching a classic. Brosnan gives the latest in a series of incredible, radically un-James Bond-like performances as the charismatic, and possibly insane preacher. By the time Brosnan’s Day was convinced Satan was communicating with him though a re-run of LEGEND on satellite, I would have pegged this one of the finest films of the fest.
Sadly, things go downhill fast after this promising start. For some strange reason, the decision was made somewhere to make Kinnear’s bland Carl Vanderveer the protagonist, and to turn this into a light-mystery, which strikes me as a boneheaded move. I like Kinnear, and he can be startlingly effective in films as varied as FLASH OF GENIUS, THE MATADOR, and LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, but he’s got nothing to work with here. For one thing, he strikes me as far too-straight-laced to be a guy who’s supposed to be an ex-wake n’bake pothead, Grateful Dead fanatic. Secondly, why bother making Kinnear’s bland character the protagonist when you have Pierce Brosnan giving the performance of his life as the unhinged Day. He should have been the lead, but alas… And don’t even get me started on Marissa Tomei, who’s utterly wasted in a tiny role as Carl’s minor love interest, another Dead-head, who works as a security guard at Blaylock’s university. It feels like most of her role ended up on the cutting room floor, which is a shame, as Tomei was actually quite funny during the brief time she was onscreen.
Another major problem with the film is the abrupt ending, which feels like the producers simply ran out of money, and declined to film a conclusion. Rather, we get several detailed text screens informing us on the fates of our main characters, a device that strikes me as shockingly lazy.
For me, SALVATION BOULEVARD is one of the only truly disappointing films I saw at Sundance this year, as it had so much going for it. Sadly, all of its assets, including Brosnan’s brilliant performance, and a great comedic turn from Jennifer Connelly, are spoiled by the clumsy execution. A real missed opportunity.