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Cartoon Christians

Issue: "One nation under God," June 26, 2004

The scene is a packed high-school assembly. A girl band called "The Christian Jewels" has just emoted (sung is the wrong word) in front of an audience waving outstretched arms. Suddenly, Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan), principal of the school, runs onto the stage, executing a 360-degree flip. Throwing an arm towards the crowd, he shouts, "Are you down with G-O-D?"

It's one of several on-target moments in Saved! (rated PG-13), a teen comedy that often viciously mocks fundamentalist/evangelical Christians. The movie is at its best when lampooning painfully forced attempts to repackage the gospel for the MTV generation and is likely to resonate with many who have attended Christian high schools.

But most of Saved! is a shallow, offensive attack on straw men-"Christians" who are either hypocrites full of malice, lunatics lost in their own delusions, or both. And, naturally, it reaches the same destination as most films in the last 50 years: Standards hurt people; true happiness is found in following your heart and accepting others.

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Mary (Jena Malone) is a senior at American Eagle Christian Academy, and she has everything going for her. She's a member of the Christian Jewels, friends with ultra-popular Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore), and dating a nice Christian guy. But the nice Christian guy turns out to be gay, and Mary decides to cure him. She believes that Jesus has told her to sleep with him, with her virginity later being restored in honor of her sacrifice.

The plan fails horribly, sending Mary into a tailspin. Not only is her boyfriend still gay, but now Mary is pregnant. Mary begins to see everyone around her for who they really are-mean-spirited hypocrites. She finds solace with two outcasts at school, both non-Christians who exhibit courage and compassion not apparent in any of the religious characters.

Director Brian Dannelly plays unfair (and hurts the film) by placing his characters in two different movies. The "Christians" are over-the-top cartoons, resembling reality only in the way Mickey resembles a real mouse. This works for parody, but it doesn't mesh with the rest of the film, which goes after poignancy and emotional impact.

However ripe evangelical culture is for criticism, this movie doesn't offer much of value, mostly because it's not only an assault on hypocrisy, but also on the heart of the biblical faith. It's full of lines and images designed to make the audience feel superior to the poor dupes who buy into historic Christianity.

Saved! wants to arrive at a sort of faith of its own, and its main characters don't reject Christianity by name. But they end up with merely a mushy call for tolerance and relaxed standards. It's important to remember that the world rejects the gospel not just because of its weak representatives but because it is in fact offensive. The gospel is exclusive, and, more than hypocrisy and naivete, it's this that the movie's writers don't like.


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