Mocking religion is about one of the oldest comedic plotlines in the book, leaving very little room for an original story. Despite its stellar cast, Salvation Boulevard, based on the book of the same title by Larry Beinhart, falls flat in its attempt to exhibit a bout of corruption in a Catholic church. The premise of the film seems quite simple, yet the slapdash events that follow lead us on a path of frustration and confusion that provides no resolution at the end.
Deadhead, Carl Vandermeer (Greg Kinnear) turns straightedge after experiencing a sign from God that leads him to marry a devout Christian woman, Gwen (Jennifer Connelly) and become a member of the Third Millennium Church congregation led by the arrogant Pastor Daniel Day (Peirce Brosnan). We are introduced to Carl via a video recording telling of his transformation. Though he recalls the story with vigor, when he is exemplified at a debate between Pastor Dan and an agnostic professor, Dr. Paul Baylock (Ed Harris), he seems embarrassed about his salvation.
After the debate, a former Deadhead turned security guard Honey Foster (Marisa Tomei) introduces herself to Carl assuming they have a connection because of their past experiences. Taken aback by her forwardness, Carl retreats to Gwen and her father (Ciarán Hinds) who are in the midst of pitching their Christian movie theater idea to the Pastor. Baylock interrupts them to invite Pastor Dan to his office for a drink, and for no particular reason, brings Carl along. In Baylock’s office, the core of the plot transpires, Pastor Dan shoots Baylock in the head with one of his antique rifles and rearranges the scene to look like an attempted suicide.
The question that propels the film is the ambiguity over whether or not this shooting was intentional, which then leads to an assortment of contrived actions to keep you guessing. Pastor Dan fixates on avoiding taking responsibility for his alleged sin and confronting his guilt. He then confides in his friend Jerry (Jim Gaffigan), but pins Carl as the shooter, obviously choosing the character most prone to manipulation to do his dirty work.
Carl tries to explain the misunderstanding to Jerry, but like any cinematically depicted blind follower of the church, Jerry ignores Carl’s pleas and refuses to believe Pastor Dan’s capabilities. Jerry takes it upon himself to sacrifice Carl for his sins, replicating the story of Abraham and Isaac, and, like Isaac, Carl is saved. His stepdaughter, who wakes up from a nap in the back of their mini-van distracts Jerry, and Carl quickly bashes him over the head in defense.
Though his stepdaughter clearly witnessed the event, Gwen and her father find Carl’s confession outlandish and are convinced that it is all a figment of his imagination. This behavior is maddening, not only because as viewers we know the truth about the situation, but also because it’s typical. The members of the congregation always work to protect their beloved pastor, while we watch him privately pray to God to absolve him from his sin.
The predictability is also characterized by Gwen’s infatuation with Pastor Dan, juxtaposed with her daughter’s silent rebellion, a personal interest in science. As the characters in the film become more aggravated by Carl’s accusations about Pastor Dan, Carl ruthlessly seeks to prove himself innocent.
There is very little character development because everyone is stuck in his or her rigid personality. People are exactly who they appear to be on screen and nothing more. So it is curious that when the professor ends up waking up from a coma, the drama continues to arise. The characters seem to ignore that storyline, showing us what this film is really about. The hand of God gives people what they deserve, delivered through a pallid comedic trajectory.
Get the most-revealing celebrity conversations with the uInterview podcast!