Salvation Boulevard (2011)

2015 #101
George Ratliff | 96 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

Reuniting Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear, stars of comedy-thriller The Matador (reportedly Brosnan was cast first and asked for Kinnear), comedy-drama Salvation Boulevard stars Brosnan as evangelical preacher Dan Day and Kinnear as a member of his flock, Carl, a recent convert thanks to his even-more-committed wife (Jennifer Connelly). When Dan accidentally shoots an atheist (Ed Harris) with Carl as the only witness, Dan tries to cover it up, but Carl isn’t so sure, soon finding himself on the run from other members of the church who’ll do whatever Dan tells them…

A soft-toothed satire of America’s fundamentalist mega-churches, Salvation Boulevard trailed very well, but they must’ve stuffed all the funny bits in, because in the final film such moments of hilarity are few and far between. The biggest problem is that the film doesn’t have the cojones to skewer organised religion as thoroughly as it could. It’s undoubtedly skeptical of the whole shebang, and I wouldn’t say it paints it in a positive light, but it comes up short of outright deconstructing it. Instead, we get an increasingly-complex run-around, including bringing in a Mexican drug cartel who want the land Dan is intending to build a new town on.

Intriguingly, it’s adapted from a novel that, based on the blurb, sounds nothing like the film. It appears to be a fully-fledged thriller, for one thing. It follows a detective, who is at least a born again Christian, but there’s a suspect in custody who’s a Muslim, and a Jewish defense attorney would seem to play a prominent role, and the plot description is full of language about “his most basic beliefs are tried” and “he can’t stop searching for the truth no matter what the personal cost”. This is not the Salvation Boulevard that has ended up on film. I tried to hunt down an explanation for why co-writer/director George Ratliff had deviated so, but the best I could unearth was this interview. Asked whether the characters are different from the book and how they went about translating the novel to the screen, Ratliff answers:

A lot of the names are the same. The book is very good and Larry Beinhart is a very good writer, but it’s just a different animal, and we went and did something completely different. […] definitely the spirit of Larry’s book is in the movie. A lot of the things that happen in the book happen in the movie. It’s just set up very differently. It is absolutely an adaptation of the book, but I need to be clear that we did change a lot.

Which… doesn’t really answer my question. But hey, it only really matters if you like the book.

Even more baffling is Brosnan’s accent. He seems to have decided to do each scene slightly different, evoking English, Irish, Australian, South African, southern US, and goodness knows what else along the way.

I shouldn’t have expected much given the poor reviews, but I like the cast (which also includes Ciarán Hinds and Marisa Tomei), I really enjoyed The Matador, and the trailer was suitably promising, all of which encouraged me to seek it out. I wouldn’t say Salvation Boulevard was an entire waste of time, but I couldn’t help but feel there was potential for a funnier, more cutting movie hidden in the material. Shame.

2 out of 5

Legion (2010)

2012 #21
Scott Stewart | 96 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

LegionThe first of two Christian-themed action movies directed by former visual effects man Scott Stewart (this his first feature as director) and starring British thesp Paul Bettany (here he plays a gun-toting angel, next time it’s a warrior monk) — I don’t know if that’s a conscious theological choice of some kind (there’s no Book of Eli-style heavy-handed God-bothering in either film) or just an almighty coincidence. Even if not, the quality of the pair is consistent, for better or worse.

In the first of the Stewart-Bettany diptych, we find that for some reason it’s the end of days, and for some reason there’s a diner in the middle of nowhere, and a deliberately fallen angel turns up to defend the inhabitants of said diner from the celestial forces that are for some reason gathering to kill them. Something like that, anyway.

It doesn’t really matter, it’s all rubbish. It’s penned by writers who think speechmaking equates to character. All of the dialogue is appalling; even Big Lines — just before a heroic death, that kind of thing — are irredeemably bad. It’s performed by actors who aren’t even capable of delivering that tosh. They all overact in one way or another, especially a gurning turn from Dennis Quaid. Later on it aims for some kind of epic fantasy stuff, but it manages to be both underdeveloped and overplayed. The ending shoots for a ‘the story continues’ vibe, though goodness knows where anyone thought the story had to go.

LegionersEven the action sequences not up to much, just guns firing and things exploding in the dark with almost no choreography. As an action movie you might forgive it some of the plot and character points if it could manage that, but it can’t.

Also, there’s a character called Jeep… who’s a mechanic! Oh come on.

There are some scraps of good bits. The beginning is moderately cool, if a bit of a rip from the Terminator franchise. There’s some good creepy villains — to say how or who would ruin some of the film’s rare good bits, should you for some reason decide to watch it. Which you shouldn’t.

Legion is disappointing on pretty much every level. There’s some potential in the basic idea, but it’s not even close to being realised. Even the siege-based rendering of it they’ve gone for feels half baked.

Avoid.

1 out of 5

Legion featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2012, which can be read in full here.