Did you know that Christian fundamentalists are demented lunatics driven by a combination of blind faith, greedy self-interest, and severe stupidity? If not, let Salvation Boulevard preach the anti-organized-religion gospel! In director George Ratliff’s dreary satire, life for Deadhead-turned-true-believer Carl (Greg Kinnear) takes a turn for the loopy when he’s asked by church leader Dan Day (Pierce Brosnan)—who takes credit for saving Carl’s soul, and facilitating his marriage to zealot Gwen (Jennifer Connelly)—to come along for a post-debate drink with atheist speaker Dr. Blaylock (Ed Harris). While the two philosophically opposed gentlemen are discussing a possible joint book deal, Dan accidentally shoots Blaylock in the head, covers up the crime by making it look like a suicide, and the next day proceeds to frame Carl for the crime. That, in turns, leads to attempted murder schemes, Carl falling in with a stoner security guard (Marisa Tomei) who also loves the Grateful Dead, and other sundry wannabe-madcap scenarios in which the devout behave in ways aren’t just hypocritical (no turning the other cheek here!), but downright insane, with Carl as the innocent lamb compelled to open his eyes to the madness of his chosen path.
Salvation Boulevard doesn’t simply pander to its choir; it practically accosts it via all manner of grotesque characterizations and situations. From a mug emblazoned with “Rapture Ready” and Jim Gaffigan’s cameraman dimly justifying an assassination by referencing Abraham and Isaac, to a later development involving a shady criminal (Yul Vazquez) and Gwen’s less-than-pious feelings for Dan, Ratliff’s film skewers its milieu with inert, mirthless redundancy. Always a rather blankly cheery actor, Kinnear embodies Carl less as a blithely innocent Chauncey Gardiner type than merely an empty-headed dolt being passively shuffled through life by others. And save for the “dude!”-spouting Tomei’s mildly amusing hippie-dippy turn, the rest of the overdoing-it cast (in particular Brosnan and Connelly) treats its roles as merely revolting caricatures to be openly mocked. Salvation Boulevard is so monotonously monstrous in depicting fundamentalists as psychos unwilling to listen to reason (except when it comes to upholding their own profits, or dogma) that the potential legitimacy of such a critique becomes moot, relegating the entire story to a one-note sermon (shot with an ugliness to match its lack of imagination) aimed only at the already fervently non-fundamentalist crowd.