Red State, Kevin Smith’s public service announcement horror film on the dangers of fundamentalist Christians, came out months ago. I already questioned the idea of creating a film that automatically insinuates half the U.S. population is filled with Fred Phelps wannabes. I already wondered why Kevin went Silent Jihad on Islamic radicals, but came out with guns blazing for the War on Ostracized Christian Outliers.
However, I didn’t review the film—until now. If you’re looking for a fair-minded conservative review, you’ve found it.
Red State begins with “Travis,” played by actor Michael Angarano, being driven to high school for his first period class. The problem is that Travis looks like he’s in his mid-twenties. This slightly jarring, chuckle-inducing moment is emblematic of a film that on multiple levels goes on to miss its marks.
The plot of the film is fairly straight forward: Three teenage boys answer an online invitation to have group sex with a willing woman on a Friday night. After side-swiping a vehicle on the way to the rendezvous, they decide to carry on anyway to realize their goal. Hours later their plans of wild sex has gone awry; they’ve been drugged, bound up and wound up tight, and on display for a fundamentalist church that specializes in sinner-sacrifices. A chain of events, set in motion by the earlier car accident, ensures a Waco-style standoff between the church and the federal government, with everyone fighting for their lives.
Sounds like a pretty good action-thriller, right? Not quite. Michael Parks, as intolerant preacher Abin Cooper, and John Goodman as a level-headed ATF Agent, do the acting equivalent of turning water into wine, but even they can’t save Red State from itself. Kevin Smith edits an entertaining gun battle, but an entertaining gun fight doesn’t necessarily make a movie (an exception might be John Woo’s classic, Hard Boiled).
What truly hampers Red State are a slew of long, drawn out diatribes by Parks and Goodman (again, both delivered flawlessly) that do little more than wallow in stereotypical rants you’ve already written in your mind the moment the characters appear on screen. Think about an anti-gay screed based on what you know about fundamentalist Christians. Now imagine it going on for what feels like 30 minutes and you can cook yourself dinner without missing a thing. The one moment where the film flirts with excellence—a climax tied to the Book of Revelation—comes to a screeching halt with, ironically, a Deus ex Machina I can only hope was due to time or budgetary constraints. Confused? All you need to know comes from an ATF Agent who ties everything up eloquently, shortly before the credits, when he says: “Patriot Act, b**ch!”
I stand by what I wrote in December of 2010:
Kevin needs some critical acclaim. He’s taking the Billie Joe Armstrong route, which is to douse his work in ideological pheromones that a number of critics won’t be able to resist. It may be a smart move in the short run, but the long term effects are rather damaging.
It’s obvious that Kevin Smith was trying with Red State, but just like an algebraic story problem, it doesn’t matter how hard you try if you’re using the wrong equation. In this instance Kevin factored in far left, tired tropes into his equation for success, and the answer was rejected by most moviegoers outside his hard core, cultish fan base.
Here’s to hoping (and praying) that Kevin rebounds with his next movie.