Directed by: Brian Baugh
Starring: Randy Wayne, Deja Kreutzberg, Joshua Weigel, Steven Crowder, Sean Michael
Say what you will about the Bible, but at least God has a sense of showmanship. Man-eating whales, fire and brimstone, murder, sex, locusts—it makes Michael Bay movies look like episodes of The Golden Girls. Perhaps that’s the reason the snuff-film qualities of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004) and Tyler Perry’s hot-grits-to-the-face brand of Christianity have been so wildly popular—at least there’s nothing boring going on.
This is the biggest failing in Brian Baugh’s To Save a Life: It’s just dull. Really, this is the issue with any number of kind-hearted, well-intentioned Christian films that occasionally make their way into theaters. I’m not saying there need to be shootouts or car chases in Baugh’s film, but something—anything—other than the phony, shallow teen melodrama being pawned off as heavy and important would be a welcome relief.
Since this is a faith-based concoction, the film is based around a central message. In this case, it’s the prevention of teen suicide. OK, so that’s a serious enough topic, but Baugh and screenwriter Jim Britts seem so out of touch with how people actually operate that their setup and conclusion are impossible to take seriously. What they’ve tried to accomplish is a story of spiritual awakening as seen through the eyes of a high-school senior named Jake Taylor (played by 28-year old—and looking everyday of it—Randy Wayne, Ghost Town). Jake is the big man on campus and an apparent Aryan superman who can do no wrong. But when his former childhood friend (Roger Bailey Jr., The Happening)—who he’s long been ignoring—kills himself at school, Jake’s world starts to unravel. Luckily, he hits it off with the cool local youth minister (Joshua Weigel) and starts practicing religion.
The bulk of the movie centers around Jake’s struggles with religion, from the sudden alienation with his partying friends, to his attempts at helping those around him. Most of it comes off as hokey or simplistic. Apparently, the school he goes to is filled with affluent, white atheists, since no one—from his girlfriend (Deja Kreutzberg, Sorority Row) to his best friend (Steven Crowder)—seem to be able to wrap their heads around the unfathomable idea of someone going to church.
Then there’s the thick layer of teenage soap that’s slathered on liberally. It’s a veritable buffet table of high-school theatrics at play here, from cutters, to drug use, to golden oldies like teen pregnancy. The problem is that it’s all handled in the most roundabout, tedious way imaginable, with the double whammy of having zero depth to any of its issues. The latter causes the film to be sensationalistic, while the former keeps it from having the gall to actually be interesting. On the plus side, all this is filmed professionally enough, but this is little relief when what’s being made to look gussied up is so incredibly lifeless. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving teen suicide, teen drinking, some drug content, disturbing images and sexuality.