Back in 2001, George Ratliff made a fine documentary called Hell House, about a Texas evangelical church's elaborate haunted house, which warned teens against sex, abortion, drugs, godlessness, and all manner of sin. It could've been a snide, cheap takedown, but it wasn't. These people were putting on a show. (In retrospect, the doc was like Glee for Bible-thumpers.) The director returns to a similar milieu in this broad, generous comedy set in and around a suburban mega-church. Continuing his late-career transformation into a real actor, Pierce Brosnan plays Pastor Dan, whose grand vision of an integrated church/real-estate development is threatened by a mishap with a gun. Married into his flock is meek former Deadhead Carl (Greg Kinnear, also improving with age), who gets caught in Pastor Dan's coverup and conspiracy. Without spoiling any details in the subsequent farce (also peopled by Jennifer Connelly, Marisa Tomei, Ed Harris, and Jim Gaffigan), I'll commend the Texas-raised director for Salvation Boulevard's highly forgiving allowance for zealotry, doubt, stupidity, and transgression. Pastor Dan isn't an evil hypocrite but a pompous nitwit who genuinely believes his glowing red cell-phone caller ID ("Unknown") is coming from Satan. And the humble, not-smart Carl emerges not as a bitter atheist but as a kind of pilgrim with a minivan who always stops to help his enemies.
Tomei deploys her very secular charms.
Runs at Varsity, Fri., July 29â€“Thurs., Aug. 4. Not rated. 96 minutes.