Watching Salvation Boulevard, I realized that satire was never going to be the funniest form of comedy. Ever since Swift penned A Modest Proposal, whatever laughs there are in these dark artistic works have been nervous and mixed with horror and revulsion.
So it is with "Salvation Boulevard," not the darkest comedy I've ever seen, but plenty dark, disturbing, and sometimes violent. But in the service of deflating piety, hypocrisy, and egomania, the atmosphere feels entirely appropriate.
The movie starts with a debate between Pastor Dan Day (Pierce Brosnan) and atheist Peter Blaylock (Ed Harris). Having watched similar debates between various clerics and religious apologists and the likes Richard Dawkins and the late, great Christopher Hitchens, the script and direction gets the tone mostly right and mines the hubris and false confidence (of both parties) for laughs. The scene also serves to introduce us to most of the key characters, including Carl Vanderveer (Greg Kinnear), a former Deadhead who has had a radical conversion to an evangelical form of Christianity and married a seemingly holy woman, who has a saner-than-she-should be teen daughter.
Not nearly as broad as "Saved!"--a satire in a similar vein--"Boulevard" deals with Pastor Dan accidentally shooting atheist Blaylock (which rather than killing him, puts him in a coma) and trying to pin the shooting on Carl. Because all of this happens within the opening minutes of the movie, no spoiler alert was called for, but from that point on the surprises begin to stack up and to say more would be to rob the reader of those moments of shock and humor. Suffice to say that contemporary Christianity as practiced by celebrity mega-church leadership and attendees comes in for some well-deserved parody.
To any person of faith tempted to cry foul and offer "Boulevard" as just one more example of Christianity coming under unfair fire in America, I would say that not a week goes by that a new Christian movie doesn't show up in Red Box rental kiosks or the local megaplexes, so your privilege is still intact; and if you don't like being made fun of, start acting to drive the clowns and con artists from your midst. Is making fun of Christian hypocrisy like shooting fish in a barrel? Hell yes, and it's because sincere, honest people of faith don't do all they can to shut up people like Jack Van Impe, the idiots on Trinity Broadcasting, and the various charlatans and faith healers who ply their craft over the airwaves and in opulent cathedrals. If you were to criticize these sickening, slick shysters as thoroughly as they deserve, there might be less ammunition left for those of us who don't share your faith.
As it stands, there is a need for movies like "Salvation Boulevard," to remind us--votaries and infidels alike--that the human condition is more complex and absurd than any single worldview can accommodate, and among the worst ideas for addressing that condition is religion.