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Saved! (12A)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by Mandy Moore and Jena Malone. Commentary by director, producer and co-writer. 'Heaven Help Us' featurette. Revelations from the cast and crew. Alternative/deleted/extended scenes. Bloopers. Michael Stipe Wants You To Get Saved! Easter egg.

THE hypocrisy surrounding religion and fundamentalist education gets a sly workover in Saved!, a film which also looks set to work miracles for the perception of pop-star-turned-actress, Mandy Moore.

Produced by REM frontman, Michael Stipe, and Pump Up The Volume producer, Sandy Stern, Saved! is, for the most part, a wickedly barbed satire that succeeded in getting religious nuts in America more than a little hot under the collar.

Set in a Christian high school, first-time director, Brian Dannelly's film centres around the life of Jena Malone's Mary, who sacrifices her virginity in an attempt to heterosexualize her gay boyfriend, only to discover that she's become pregnant.

Her subsequent loss of faith threatens to ruin her friendship with Moore's uptight, holier-than-thou Hilary Faye, who has taken it upon herself to educate every 'sinner' in the way of the Lord, but delights the school's only Jewish student, Cassandra (Eva Amurri), and the wheelchair-bound Roland (Macaulay Culkin), who would love nothing more than to see someone stand up to Hilary.

Needless to say, matters reach an unholy climax on prom night, when almost everyone is forced to confront their faith and the difficult decisions it places upon them.

Criticised in certain quarters for being blasphemous, the film actually makes some very relevant points thanks to the quality of its script which delights in picking out the various double-standards that can be rife within fundamentalist education.

Yet it also serves as an enjoyable teen comedy to boot, which has a lot in common with the similarly mean-spirited Mean Girls, instead of the gross-out college campuses that are beginning to get tiresome.

It's just a shame that Dannelly cannot resist the temptation to become a little too preachy late on, when just about every character gets to see the light and finds redemption, in some form, from their past failings.

Performance-wise, the film boasts a number of nicely-observed turns, not least from Moore, who succeeds in casting off her good-girl image to become a completely self-obsessed bitch.

Malone, too, makes an endearing central character, while Culkin is good value as her sarcastic friend, and the likes of Patrick Fugit, as a love-interest, Martin Donovan, as Pastor Skip, and Mary-Louise Parker, as Mary's mother, all provide spiritied support slots.

But it is Amurri's vampish rebel, Cassandra, who really steals the show, delivering a deliciously mischievous performance which encapsulates all that is fun about watching the movie.

It may ultimately run out of steam, but Saved! is a smarter-than-average teen comedy that you won't mind confessing to have enjoyed seeing.

One final point, however - why isn't Stipe's REM classic, Losing My Religion, anywhere on the soundtrack?

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