After all the fervor surrounding Mel Gibson’s The Passion, which had believers crawling out of the woodwork to say Hallelujah, I was hopeful that Saved! and its boasts of religious irreverence would set out to poke fun at evangelicals, to show that ultra-Christians are just as susceptible to being narrow-minded and ridiculous as the rest of us.

Sadly, the word irreverent means something different to the people behind Saved!, with its sugary, happy ending in which all the characters see the error of their ways and then hug. It couldn’t have been cheesier if Disney had done it.

The film is built around the teenagers at American Eagle Christian High School. There’s Mary, who thinks Jesus told her to have sex with her boyfriend to save him from being gay, and her self-righteous best friend Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore), who, in her own words, “is filled with Christ’s love.”

When Mary’s boyfriend is sent off to be de-gayed and Hilary Faye holds a prayer circle to help purge him of his homosexuality, the girls’ relationship deteriorates. Mary, whose one-time sexual encounter left her pregnant, takes up with the school outcasts, Roland (Macaulay Culkin), Hilary Faye’s wheelchair-bound brother, and Cassandra, the school’s token Jewish girl and hell-raiser. From there, all the usual hilarity ensues as Mary and the outcasts have fun at Hilary Faye’s expense, and Hilary Faye grows even more zealous and self-righteous in response, until she eventually retaliates in a most un-Christian fashion.

In many ways, Saved! is a little like Mean Girls, with its dead-on portrayal of the high school social bubble. Just as Mean Girls gave me shuddering flashbacks to my teen years, an early scene in Saved!, when trying-to-be-hip Pastor Skip asks a student assembly if they’re “down with G-O-D,” reminded me of my old fundamentalist teacher who believed heavy metal music was the instrument of the devil.

But where Mean Girls manages to be funny and clever even when it’s being trite, Saved! is only sometimes funny and falls flat.

In the end, the movie’s failing is that it is too preachy. While the message, “It’s OK to be flawed and true faith means accepting people for who they are, whether they’re gay, Jewish or a bitchy, self-proclaimed, super-Christian,” is noble, it’s more after-school special than irreverent.

As Homer Simpson would say: “Save me, Jeebus!”

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