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Originally published July 28, 2011 at 3:01 PM | Page modified July 28, 2011 at 5:01 PM

Movie review

'Salvation Boulevard': Cast is divine in religious satire

A movie review of "Salvation Boulevard," a satire about the cover-up of a charismatic pastor's accidental crime. The appealing cast includes Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Marisa Tomei and Ciarán Hinds.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

'Salvation Boulevard,' with Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Marisa Tomei, Ciarán Hinds. Directed by George Ratliff, from a screenplay by Ratliff and Doug Max Stone, based on a novel by Larry Beinhart. 93 minutes. Rated R for violence, sexuality and profanity. Varsity.

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Filmmaker George Ratliff's 2001 documentary "Hell House" focused on a real-life fundamentalist Christian church that operates a haunted house every Halloween. Filled with gruesome depictions of such contemporary horrors as drug abuse and a bungled abortion procedure, the church's scare-tactic theater spoke for itself. Ratliff wisely resisted layering on unnecessary lampooning of congregation members or their leaders.

The gloves come off, however, on "Salvation Boulevard," Ratliff's enjoyable if simplistic black comedy loosely based on a novel by Larry Beinhart. A satire about an evangelical megachurch and the people determined to defend its leader at any cost, "Boulevard" doesn't ridicule its characters for intense faith (or lack of it) but rather for the way they bend principles under pressure.

A truly appealing cast is this somewhat rambling movie's best asset. Greg Kinnear stars as Carl, a former Deadhead (a follower of the Grateful Dead) who gave up his hippie ways to join a huge house of worship run by Pastor Dan (Pierce Brosnan). Married to one of the parish's more fervent members (Jennifer Connelly), Carl is treated as something of a trophy convert by Dan.

Things go wrong when Carl witnesses Dan accidentally shoot a friendly nemesis (Ed Harris). Dan hurriedly covers up his actions and blames Carl, who finds himself in a comic nightmare.

Marisa Tomei is a hoot as a fellow Deadhead sympathetic to the hero's plight, and Ciarán Hinds brings sinewy strength to his role as a parishioner skeptical of Dan's alibi.

It's hard to know whether Ratliff is attempting to really say something of significance about churches that become too big to fail. If so, his point is diverted by an increasingly complicated satire. On the other hand, if "Salvation Boulevard" is just a lark with particularly dark moments, it's not a film that sticks to one's ribs.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@yahoo.com

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