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Anyone who criticizes Saved! (2004) for demeaning the importance of faith needs to watch it again. Like Kevin Smith's Dogma, Saved! ultimately celebrates the concept of belief in something higher than yourself — it just pokes a lot of fun at the inflexible, preachy, commercialized methods people use to proclaim and enforce that belief. Director Brian Dannelly (who also co-wrote the film) sets his edgy comedy among the (mostly) devout teenagers of the fictional American Eagle Christian High School. What he and his cast quickly make clear is that these kids are just like every other group of teens anywhere in the country: Just because they wear crosses around their necks and say grace before lunch doesn't mean they're immune to the back-biting, cliquish nature of high school. Their queen bee is pretty blonde Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore, giving a performance that should go down in teen-movie-bitch history), a smugly self-righteous leader who always gets her way. Standing in her shadow is quiet, thoughtful Mary (Jena Malone), who has never questioned her faith because it's never occurred to her to do so. But she gets a wake-up call when a last-ditch attempt to save her flamboyant, ice-skating boyfriend from the "curse" of homosexuality leaves her pregnant, confused, and angry. Mary finds unexpected sympathy in the form of bad girl Cassandra (Susan Sarandon offspring Eva Amurri) — the lone Jewish student at American Eagle — and Hilary Faye's wryly cynical, wheelchair-bound brother Roland (Macaulay Culkin). She also catches the eye of Patrick (Patrick Fugit), the floppy-haired, skateboarding son of "down with G.O.D." school principal Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan) — who, in turn, has a thing for Mary's single mother, Lillian (Mary-Louise Parker). Mary's struggle to reconcile what she's been taught all her life with her dawning realization that Jesus might not be the answer to everything and that the world is full of shades of gray is a compelling one. Malone unfortunately pales in comparison to Moore's dominating performance, and Dannelly lets the film get a little too sentimental at times (the last scene is an eye-roller), but overall Saved! is a smart comedy that shouldn't offend anyone who's intelligent enough to know that it's what you believe that matters, not how and when you believe it. Since its limited theatrical run generated a lot of buzz, Saved! should do well on DVD. MGM's release offers a clean anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio and English, Spanish, and French subtitles. Extras include a pair of audio commentaries (one by Malone and Moore, the other by Dannelly, producer Sandy Stern and co-writer Michael Urban), a brief featurette, 11 deleted and extended scenes (most are fairly unremarkable), two minutes' worth of bloopers, a "revelations" section that gives away some of the movie's behind-the-scenes in-jokes, trailers, and one easy-to-find Easter egg. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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