SUNDANCE 2011

Sundance 2011 Quick Reviews: 'Salvation Boulevard' & 'Homework'

by
January 28, 2011

Salvation Boulevard

This year Kevin Smith returned to Sundance with his second religion focused film Red State (read my review here). Also at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival this year is another film taking on religion called Salvation Boulevard from director George Ratliff (Joshua). Since Smith's Red State is a horror film and Salvation Boulevard is a comedy, the two films couldn't be more different. However, they both seem to have one trait in common: neither of them are funny. Yes, despite a cast that includes Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Jim Gaffigan, Jennifer Connelly, Marisa Tomei and Ed Harris this movie needs a comedy miracle.

Our story opens on two feuding pubic figures having a debate on the existence on God. One is college professor Dr. Paul Blaylock (Harris) and the other is outspoken Christian pastor Dan Day (Brosnan). From the beginning of this debate, it's clear this film will be on obvious, unclever skewering of religion. The arguments form these supposed experts feel like they came from a high school philosophy class. But this gives us the opportunity to meet Carl Vanderveer (Kinnear), a once loyal follower of The Grateful Dead turned man of faith, who becomes Dan Day's prime evidence for the existence of God. After the debate we see this argument isn't as hostile as it might have seemed as Carl and Pastor Dan are invited for a drink in Dr. Blaylock's office. But when a friendly discussion goes awry with Pastor Dan accidentally shooting Blaylock in the head with a Civil War pistol, we have our plot.

The rest of the film follows Carl desperately trying to prove his innocence as Pastor Dan has decided to pawn off this accident on him (though Dr. Blaylock isn't dead but merely in a coma). What follows this caper is some of the most exaggerated caricatures of characters and they all fall flat on their face. Connelly is sometimes funny as Carl's hyper-religious wife, but she's so two-dimensional that you just won't care. Tomei's character is nothing more than a typical pothead who also spent days with The Grateful Dead, and Jim Gaffigan is wasted in the worst way possible. Aside from the complete lack of comedy, there are subplots that go absolutely nowhere. A promising angle with the Vandeveers' teen daughter struggling with the conflict between faith and logic is swept under the rug for the more generic crime caper.

Salvation Boulevard is nothing more that a straight-to-DVD comedy that you'll find in the Wal-Mart bargain bin later this year. Not even Jesus can save this film.

Ethan's Sundance Rating: 2 out of 10

Homework

Walking around New York City, seeing foreign films and smoking cigarettes like a hipster Ferris Bueller is how George (Freddie Highmore) spends most of his school days. But his school principal (Blair Underwood) is done with his slacking this year as George is now a senior and on the verge of beginning the rest of his life. Still, George can't be bothered to do any of his Homework and merely doodles (rather impressively) in his textbooks. But someone finally comes along who might get him to pay attention: Sally (Emma Roberts) a rich, but more importantly beautiful and down-to-earth, girl who takes a liking to George.

From here on out, this film isn't much different than other coming-of-age or high school romance films you've seen before. These kids have issues with their parents, and are basically left to police themselves on the city streets. Most of the time this takes them to bars they're able to get into and drink illegally. A stellar soundtrack with more than enough montages makes this film enjoyable but not remarkable. Highmore and Roberts are charming in their teen romance, but the relationship itself soon becomes fickle when another guy (Michael Angarano) enters the picture.

Though this film is well-acted and well-made, it's all too familiar. First-time writer/director Gavin Wiesen does his best to avoid high school cliches like bullying and teachers that are more caricatures than real mentors, but he falls into just as many in his portrayal of high school romance, art and teen angst. The movie is clearly personal, but its also very safe. There's nothing bold or new about the story Wiesen tries to tell, no matter how pretty NYC looks in every scene. This will be an indie that teens will clamor to see, and hopefully introduce them to the world of cinema outside of blockbusters. For that I will be pleased, but since I made took that step over ten years ago, I feel like I'm in high school all over again since Homework didn't really do much for me.

Ethan's Sundance Rating: 6.5 out of 10

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