made me hate you: Moore in Saved!
by Brian Dannelly
‘Are you ready to get your Jesus
The above shout-out from Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan) to an
auditorium packed with swaying, praying kids is followed by
even more bewilderingly gangsta-flava’d exhortations for Christ.
(Such as: “Jesus is in the house!”) The world of American
Eagle Christian High School is very different from the upscale
public schools usually portrayed in teen films like the recent
Mean Girls. Yes, there are the same petty jealousies
and flirtations, and, yes, the milieu is trés comfortable
upper-middle-class. The difference is that at American Eagle,
everyone knows they’re right because Jesus is on their
If you’ve never had much contact with Christian schools, Saved!
is a very funny, through-the-looking-glass experience. This
is a world in which everything is filtered through the assumed
will of God. The effect this has with regard to teen hormones
and the usual adolescent cruelties is the film’s best joke.
Mary (Jena Malone, in a nuanced performance) has it all: a
nice home, a nice Christian boyfriend and a nicer place at
the top of the American Eagle social pyramid. She’s disgustingly
nice. She’s best friends with golden girl Hilary Faye (Mandy
Moore, in an over-the-top performance), who rules the school
with her well- manicured fist. Hilary Faye is not nice at
all. When Mary’s trust in Jesus to help solve her boyfriend
problems leads to a descent into sin, the fallout is of biblical
A good part of Malone’s achievement lies in her ability to
make Mary genuinely innocent and faith-driven. Screwing your
possibly-gay boyfriend in order to “cure” his homosexuality—and
additionally believing that Jesus will restore your “spiritual”
virginity—may be moronic, but Mary’s no moron. When everything
starts falling apart for her, Malone captures both the teenage
angst and spiritual alienation of the character.
Moore, who had previously played only good-girl parts, proves
to be an astute comic villain. Hilary Faye (now there’s
an inspired name) is a classic type: beautiful outside, vile
inside. Moore has mostly downplayed her glamorous pop-star
side before on screen, but here she deploys her beauty as
an instrument of God’s wrath on those who would oppose her.
There’s something shining in her eyes, and it sure isn’t the
love of Jesus.
The film would have been funnier if it had toned down its
sugar-coated pleas for tolerance, and more textured if the
school’s outsiders were also born-again Christians, not a
handicapped kid, a gay athlete and a Jewish hellraiser. (Though
it was very funny to have Hilary Faye refer to the latter
as “the first Jewish” she’d ever met.)
These multi-culti clichés make the ending of Saved!
a bit too uniform and sunny. Everyone comes together for a
cinematic group hug, when we all know that teenagers just
aren’t that nice to one another—Jesus or no Jesus. This is
especially true considering that the various paternity issues
and complex ambisexual relationships would easily earn the
characters a full hour on Jerry Springer. Still, in
its forthright message that a too-rigid belief system will
inevitably be smashed by reality—and in its occasionally cutting
wit—Saved! is redeemed.
Chronicles of Riddick
by David Twohy
Chronicles of Riddick, starring Vin Diesel as an interstellar
renegade, is purportedly a sequel to Pitch Black, the
unexpectedly suspenseful 2000 sci-fi thriller whose humanist
subtext earned it a cult following. Pitch Black also
gave Diesel his breakout role as Riddick, a murderer with
a conscience whose enigmatic menace winds through the artfully
tricky cinematography like noxious vapors in a catacomb.
So, after creating one of the most involving scary-planet
movies since Alien, what do Diesel and director-writer
David Twohy concoct for an encore? The exact opposite: A bloated,
numbingly obvious vanity vehicle that implodes under the sheer
dead weight of its special-effects supernovas and reams of
back story. And by the way, it barely qualifies as a sequel,
employing just enough tie-ins, such as Keith David’s imam
(a groundbreaking character in the original, here reduced
to a plot convention) to suck in fans of the original. Considering
its meaningless overlay of philosophical and cinematic iconography,
what the Chronicles really has in mind is to outdo
The Matrix Revolutions, Alien Resurrection,
and Conan the Barbarian with a single almighty narrative.
Bypassing all the pseudo-socio-political mumbo-jumbo, the
plot goes something like this: Five years after escaping from
the planet of the batlike monsters in Pitch Black,
Riddick is captured by a mercenary (Nick Chinlund as a nastier
Han Solo), and taken to his “homeworld,” where we discover
he is the last of his kind—his kind being the notoriously
rebellious Furions. We discover another kind of kind when
Judi Dench’s ethereal sage floats across the screen like a
hologram, which is how all wise old Elementals transport themselves.
Dench’s primary mission, however, is to conduct herself like
a Great British Thespian—GBTs being all the rage in fantasy
these days—while convincing Riddick that only he and his mutated
eyeballs can defend planet Helion from the invasion of the
Necromongers, a fascist nation intent on subjugating every
civilization in the universe by eradicating free will.
Needlessly, the Necros have a fearless leader (Colm Feore,
heroically keeping a straight face), who has an ambitious
heir apparent (Karl Urban in a repellent black mullet), who
is under the influence of his scheming wife (Thandie Newton
in a ridiculous pillbox braid). After a failed attempt to
lobotomize the Last Furion, much strobe-lit regime-smashing
ensues, and somehow, only Riddick’s bulging trapezoids, quick
reflexes, and sarcastic comebacks can deliver the Helion solar
system from wholesale brainwashing. As proof of the Necros’
cruelty, Linus Roach as the chief washer must wear a metallic-fried-egg
thingie on his head. Oddly enough, Riddick’s famed night vision
rarely comes into play, although he does don those dashing
goggles as often as possible. And despite a startlingly gymnastic
prison break from a planet called Crematoria with 700-degree
sunbeams, there isn’t a single effect that can rival Harry
Potter’s pet hippogriff.
Apparently learning a lesson from his recent stink bombs XXX
and A Man Apart, Diesel does not try to play Leading
Man, instead sharing the overstuffed screen with a parade
of extraneous characters while trumping one mortal combat
after another. But since there’s nothing Riddick can’t do,
and no one he can’t defeat with his bare hands, Chronicles
is more exhausting than exciting. Even with glow-in-the-dark
eyes, intergalactic saviors can be such a bore.