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

Ghost Town (2008)

2010 #37
David Koepp | 98 mins | TV | 12 / PG-13

Before I come to write a review, I tend to check out the sort of scores it’s received at a few different sites. This isn’t to help form my opinion, but actually just a side effect of the fact I go to places to rate the films myself. What one usually encounters is some degree of discrepancy, be it as little as half a mark or as large as several. As you may have guessed, Ghost Town is going to prove the exception: on IMDb, both the DVD and the Blu-ray on LOVEFiLM, and FilmJournal’s own Slate Scrawl, Ghost Town is a three-and-a-half-out-of-five film.*

As some readers may have noticed, I don’t do half-stars, which means Ghost Town must in my eyes become either a three-star or a four-star effort. Which for once is a little irritating, because Ghost Town really is a three-and-a-half-out-of-five kind of film.

This is the point at which it becomes apparent I have far more to say about my arbitrary assessment of the film’s reception than the film itself. It’s a gently amusing affair, with little that’s especially memorable but is absolutely fine while it goes about its business. Many scenes may raise a smile or a giggle, but little more than that. Scenes of hospital bureaucracy, for example, are amusing because we can identify with the legal-technicalities-to-the-point-of-silliness that it plays upon, but it’s both a familiar target and perhaps pushed a little too far.

The high-concept at the film’s centre — that Ricky Gervais sees dead people and doesn’t want to — is neat enough. It largely sticks to its rules, it manages a few moments of humour, it doesn’t get too repetitive, it often plays the most obvious card (someone thinks Ricky’s talking to them when he’s actually talking to a ghost! Oh, my sides.) And Gervais, as you’re no doubt aware, plays himself. He doesn’t do characters but variations on a theme, and while this means he’ll never be a good actor per se, he can fulfil such characters very competently.

Ghost Town won’t have you fighting back tears of laughter (unless you’re particularly undiscerning), but it also won’t have you wondering where they left the humour (unless you’re particularly discerning). It’s quite amiable, quite pleasant, a little above average. It’s three-and-a-half-out-of-five.

3 out of 5

The half star’s a ghost. Only Ricky Gervais can see it.

Ghost Town is on BBC One tonight, 28th April 2015, at 11:55pm.

* If you cast the net further afield this collapses, but shh, that’d ruin my point. (Though read the actual review quotes on that link and you begin to wonder how accurate a meter that particular fruit/vegetable-based system is.) And besides, this particular four-way alignment is still rare enough that I find it worth commenting on, especially as IMDb’s out-of-100 system lands it with an exact 7.0. OK, so this is ultimately a largely-meaningless selection of averaged-out and individual opinion, but again, shh, you’re spoiling my point. ^