Of all the movies I watched at the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) this year, none was more rewarding than Salvation Boulevard, the agnostic comedy starring Greg Kinnear, Pierce Brsonan, Marisa Tomei, Jennifer Connelly and Ed Harris. A lighthearted, offbeat laugh fest, the movie wasn't as awarding as the experience, that of being crammed into a theater full of atheists who relate all too well to the jokes on display.
In Salvation Boulevard, Greg Kinnear stars as Carl, a happily married man who is a strongly devoted to God, and even more so the mega church he belongs to. But when Carl witnesses the accidental murder of renowned atheist Dr. Paul Blaylock (Ed Harris) at the hands of charismatic pastor Dan Day (Pierce Brosnan) - and the not-so-accidental cover-up - Carl finds himself framed for the man's death. Despite his logical explanation to family and friends, he finds himself on the run - not just from the police and church, but stupidity and irrational thought.
Salvation Boulevard is a funny, irreverent comedy that goes out of its way to blast big churches but never takes itself too seriously in the process. It's also fun, a movie best watched among friends with similar viewpoints. At the screening I attended, people were rolling in their seats laughing, typically at the smallest of jokes that were also the most scathing. It was an experience.
It is a movie made for atheists and agnostics. People with mild religious beliefs will find something to like as well; the movie works well enough as a goofy crime thriller. Nevertheless, it's the message more than the movie itself that works so well.
Religious bias aside, Salvation Boulevard is just okay. It's flighty in its approach, with a loosely constructed plot and some uneven moments. The actors clearly had fun in their roles, though the performances are more entertaining than they are good. It's a movie that doesn't try too hard and comes off as incomplete at times.
But I don't really care about its flaws. Salvation Boulevard hits all the right notes and speaks the right message. The vast majority of moviegoers won't fully get it, but then again, if they did, a movie like this would never be made.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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