Poking fun at America's Bible Belt, teen comedy Saved! can be devilishly funny but - like the zealots portrayed - it eventually falls foul of spineless hypocrisy. Jena Malone, Mandy Moore and Macaulay Culkin are among the pupils at a Baptist Christian high school, wrestling with the usual adolescent angst while struggling to meet the lofty ideals prescribed to them by God-fearing grownups. It's fertile ground for scathing satire, except that writer-director Brian Dannelly attempts to preach the good word between cynical one-liners.
Mary (Jena Malone) aspires to the virtue of her namesake but when boyfriend Dean (Chad Faust) displays homosexual tendencies, she sacrifices her virginity and convinces herself she's doing God's work. Inevitably the mission backfires as Mary discovers she's pregnant and Chad's parents despatch him to a Christian "de-gayification" centre.
"A FARCICALLY CLUMSY AND SACCHARINE FINALE"
Thrown into spiritual crisis, Mary suddenly finds holier-than-thou pal Hilary (Mandy Moore) difficult to stomach and seeks guidance among the school misfits. They are novelty Jew Cassandra (Eva Amurri) and Hilary's wheelchair-bound brother Roland - supposedly world-weary although Macaulay Culkin only manages to convey boredom.
Stealing the show are a deliriously bitchy Moore and acid-tongued hellraiser Eva Amurri - an unholy cross between Joan Rivers and James Dean - with dialogue often cutting close to the bone. For instance, the reason why a good Christian girl hangs around a Planned Parenthood clinic? "To plant a pipe bomb." Meanwhile, the depiction of principal Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan) manages to be simultaneously funny and sympathetic.
Frustratingly, and very abruptly, it all comes crashing down as prom night approaches. A farcically clumsy and saccharine finale, espousing a gushing "love thy neighbour" sentiment, it's as if Dannelly is seeking last-minute redemption for daring to question the Christian establishment and everything that has come before is swiftly undermined. In the final judgement Saved! turns out to be wholly lacking in conviction.