The seething cauldron of high school is ripe for satire, and for a while, writer/director Brian Dannelly (He Bop) takes it one things one step further by setting Saved! at a Christian High School. The general dynamic is the same; there are the popular kids and the outcasts, but now everybody's focus is a little different. It is important to remember that while Dannelly and co-writer Michael Urban give some very unflattering portrayals of Christians, this is not a movie that bashes them. They are some very amusing observations that the two use to poke fun of Christianity, but overall Dannelly and Urban explore issues through the eyes of skeptical teens, who are trying to figure out what is right and wrong. Like any other teen movie, the characters here question their core beliefs, except this time their core beliefs are religious.

Saved! starts off well, but by the time the film is over, Dannelly takes away much of the wicked satire that makes the film so amusing and goes the standard teen movie rout. Everything is told through the eyes of Mary (Jena Malone, Cold Mountain, The United States of Leland). One spiritual crisis after another shakes Mary to her very core. At the beginning of the school year, she discovers her boyfriend Dean (Chad Faust, The Edge, Hope Springs) is gay. Naively, she tries to cure him by having sex with him, and later finds herself pregnant (note her name is Mary). At school, she is beginning to tire of her sanctimonious friend Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore, Chasing Liberty, How to Deal), and her judgmental views. Pregnant, she finds herself bonding more and more with the outcasts of the school, Hilary Faye's wheelchair-bound brother Roland (Macaulay Culkin, Party Monster, Richie Rich) and Cassandra (Eva Amurri, The Banger Sisters, Made-Up), the only Jewish girl at the school and official rabble-rouser. She also finds herself attracted to Patrick (Patrick Fugit, Spun, White Oleander), the Principal's hunky son.

Hilary Faye also likes Patrick, and begins to resent Mary's bonding with Cassandra and Roland. And it is inevitable that things will soon come to a head. Dannelly places each character on a journey of self-discovery. After the events of Saved!, they will learn something about themselves that hopefully makes them better people. By this alone, Saved! is better than most of the other teen junk. The cast is pretty amazing, with most of its members actual 'actors,' not necessarily hot young people with shows on the WB. This is a great showcase for Amurri, who steals the movie with Cassandra's outrageous acts and lines. Moore is also interesting, taking a role that is very against type for her. Unfortunately, her good performance is balanced by a character thinly written to provide a constant source of antagonism for Mary.

The adults do not fare as well, and seem almost an afterthought in the script. Patrick's father Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan, Agent Cody Banks, The United States of Leland) and Mary's mother Lillian (Mary-Louise Parker, Red Dragon, Pipe Dream) are entering a tentative romance and each undergoing their own journey of self-discovery, but the young actors have meatier roles and lines. As Saved! nears its conclusion, it becomes clear that Dannelly is going the more conventional route. The biting satire gives way to over-the-top antics and strong emotions that come dangerously close to being melodramatic. If he only would have stayed the course, Saved! would have been a very good movie.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 33 minutes, Rated PG-13 for strong thematic issues involving teens - sexual content, pregnancy, smoking, and language.

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