A shopworn barrel overstocked with slow-moving fish—mega-churches, the Grateful Dead, Mexican crime lords, preening clerics and their sheep-like followers—Salvation Boulevard is nevertheless an agreeable, largely vitriol-free farce. Based on a novel by Larry Beinhart (Wag the Dog), the film tracks former Deadhead and recent Christian convert Carl Vanderveer (Greg Kinnear) as he witnesses, helps cover up, then takes the fall for an indiscretion committed by his charismatic pastor (Pierce Brosnan). Carl’s true-believer wife (Jennifer Connelly sans noticeable makeup—realism!) and a homicidal church flunkie (Jim Gaffigan) conspire against him, while his stepdaughter (Isabelle Fuhrman) and a fetching stoner security guard (Marisa Tomei) provide support—until Carl disappears in what appears to be Mexico, anyway. The film is all over the map tonally, too, and frequently feels one Nancy Botwin away from being an especially schizoid episode of Weeds. But director George Ratliff, who helmed the dour 2007 kid-psycho potboiler Joshua, keeps things light and fast, and reserves his nastiest swipes for unquestioning obedience in all its forms. Salvation Boulevard isn’t groundbreaking or even consistently funny, but it is mildly inventive and the absurdities of its characters are tender and recognizably human. Best of all, we’re encouraged to laugh with them rather than at them.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 13, 2011