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With: Greg Kinnear, Pierce Brosnan, Marisa Tomei, Jennifer Connelly, Ciarán Hinds, Isabelle Fuhrman, Ed Harris, Jim Gaffigan, Howard Hesseman, Yul Vazquez, Mary Callaghan Lynch, Christine Kelly
Written by: George Ratliff, Douglas Stone, based on a novel by Larry Beinhart
Directed by: George Ratliff
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 96
Date: 01/24/2011

Salvation Boulevard (2011)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Church Lurch

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Based on a book by Larry Beinhart (Wag the Dog), Salvation Boulevard wins exclusively on the strength of its cast. Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear are together again for the first time since The Matador (2005), and they're such a great team that it makes you wonder why more movies haven't been rushed into production using this pair. (Unless you consider that The Matador was criminally underrated and only a mild hit.) Here they play the same dynamic: Kinnear is the good guy sad sack, while Brosnan is the flashy, charismatic not-so-nice-guy; they barely even occupy the same plane of existence, and their connection is tenuous onscreen, but it's a strong one. (They will also appear together in this fall's Sarah Jessica Parker vehicle I Don't Know How She Does It, though I expect their screen time will be halved.)

Kinnear now plays Carl Vanderveer, a former pot-smoking Grateful Dead follower who has become a reformed member of a church. The glitzy preacher is Dan Day (Brosnan), who uses Carl as an example of a "miracle." Carl has also landed a pretty, but uptight wife (Jennifer Connelly), who comes complete with an ex-military father (CiarĂ¡n Hinds), and a wise daughter, Angie (Isabelle Fuhrman). Carl usually appears a little bewildered and absent, except when he meets a fellow former Deadhead in security guard Honey Foster (Marisa Tomei).

Trouble begins when Dan debates a scholarly atheist, Dr. Paul Blaylock (Ed Harris), and is invited back to his office for a chat. Dan brings Carl along. During the chat, Dan accidentally fires Blaylock's antique gun and hits Blaylock. Panicking, Dan puts the gun in Blaylock's hand, sending Carl into a tizzy of guilt and panic. Sensing his cover may be blown, Dan begins a campaign to blame Carl for the deed. But even deeper forces are at work.

Director George Ratliff is primarily known for the memorable documentary Hell House (2001), and also for his thriller Joshua (2007). He has a sense for the spiritual and the spiritually absurd, and he seems to have his head in the game. He relishes the religious conversations going on in the movie, the lively debates about the existence of God and whatnot, and he's smart enough to present these through the characters, rather than through his own cinematic omnipotence. What the movie could use, however, is a more Lubitsch-like grace in juggling this many characters and ridiculous plotlines.

But that's OK. Who can hate Salvation Boulevard when you have Marisa Tomei's beautiful, stoned ex-hippie (dig the way she adds "man" to the end of her sentences)? And what about Jennifer Connelly, who lightens up and gets funny for the first time since Career Opportunities (1991)? (Since she won her Oscar, she has had a long series of stodgy, dreary dramas.) Harris is wonderful, almost completely disguised behind beard and glasses, and Hinds is appropriately shifty. But it's that Kinnear-Brosnan team that makes me especially happy. I hope they get to hang out a lot more often in the future.

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