A different high school comedy — this one digs deep and it matters now that Mel Gibson has made Jesus big box office, let's hope that audiences respond with understanding to Saved!, an acutely perceptive and boldly hilarious satire of fundamentalist education that is co-produced by Michael Stipe. Mandy Moore is fiercely funny as Hilary Faye, leader of the Christian Jewels at American Eagle Christian High School. Hilary Faye and her angels — Mary (Jena Malone), Tia (Heather Matarazzo) and Veronica (Elizabeth Thai) — dole out charity with an iron hand. They're mean girls who think God is on their side. Break the rules and you're banished to hell. That's the fate of Mary, who dreams that Jesus wants her to save her boyfriend (Chad Faust) from gayness by giving up her virginity. When she gets pregnant, Hilary Faye lowers the boom.
It's a huge embarrassment for Mary, whose mother (Mary-Louise Parker) is dating Skip (Martin Donovan), the hipper-than-thou pastor who thinks students respond to him because he uses words such as phat. For solace, Mary — Malone plays her with sweet gravity — turns to the school's other outsiders: tart-tongued Cassandra (Eva Amurri), the only Jewish girl at American Eagle, and the equally smartassed Roland (Macaulay Culkin), Hilary Faye's paraplegic brother. Culkin excels, bringing sly, nuanced humor to a role that could have been maudlin. But the movie, blessed with a cast that is the cream of young Hollywood, belongs to Amurri, who is a knockout. She's the daughter of Susan Sarandon and has her mom's saucer-eyed sexiness, but the expert comic timing is her own. Amurri quietly breaks your heart as Cassandra develops feelings for Roland that she registers with devastating honesty.p>Saved! is a blazing send-off for first-time director Brian Dannelly — remember that name — whose laugh-laced screenplay (written with Michael Urban) is filled with complex characters that you can't laugh off. Fanaticism is Dannelly's target, not faith. That's what makes his film a keeper: It sticks with you.