A few satiric bumps along a road to salvation
Carl Vanderveer had been a lost soul.
For most of his adult life he lived a drug-fueled, peripatetic existence on the road with the Grateful Dead.
He had no direction. No meaning in his life.
That is, until fate led him to his Gwen (Jennifer Connelly) - now his wife - and her daughter Angie (Isabelle Fuhrman), a most propitious meeting which, in turn, led Carl to Christ.
So opens the mildly amusing, if not entirely successful, satire Salvation Boulevard, with a videotaped testimony by Carl (Greg Kinnear), shot as a promotional tool for the ginormous evangelical mega-church he joined after meeting Gwen.
The Vanderveers' mega-conservative Church of the Third Millennium is led by the Rev. Dan Day, who has made it his mission to create a city for his congregation - a gated, ultramodern, multimillion-dollar community called City on a Hill.
Day is played with oily charm by Pierce Brosnan, whose command of the role is undermined by his apparent inability to stick with the same accent - he slides from Southern good ol' boy to a roguish Scotsman's brogue, with many points in between.
Brosnan is good at portraying the pastor as a strange, contradictory creature who simultaneously oozes false sincerity and impassioned conviction. (His latest best-seller is titled An Anointed Life.)
Day's lucrative plan almost becomes undone after he wraps up an intense debate with the local atheist, college professor and fellow author Paul Blaylock (Ed Harris). While having a postdebate drink, Day accidentally shoots Blaylock.
Without much hesitation, the reverend places the gun in the prof's hand to make it look like a suicide.
The spiritual leader's dark soul shines through the next morning when he eulogizes the atheist in his sermon, then vows to fight a crusade against the dark, godless void that led the professor to despair.
Of course, no one believes Carl when he explains what actually happened, including Gwen. His father-in-law (a terrific Ciarán Hinds) wants to lynch him.
The rest of the film is a madcap dance between Carl, who wants to expose the pastor, and Day, who's ready to do anything to silence the guy. Director and cowriter George Ratliff (Joshua) throws in a sleazy mobster (Yul Vazquez) and a perennially stoned and horny college security guard (Marisa Tomei) to add spice.
Trouble is, not even Tomei's saucy performance can save viewers from boredom.
It's not that Salvation Boulevard is bad: It's quite funny at times and has some good performances. But it's so predictable it has no bite, either as social satire or as slapstick comedy.
Contact Inquirer staff writer Tirdad Derakhshani at 215-854-2736 or email@example.com.