Red State (2011)

Remember when Kevin Smith was the next big thing? No fat joke intended, the mid-to-late ’90s were a time of infinite promise for the comic auteur. Everyone loved Clerks, and Mallrats took his unique brand of hyper intellectual toilet humor into the mainstream. Chasing Amy proved he could add a splash of serious without losing the funny. The high concept, still hilarious Dogma solidified his position as the filmic voice of the latest generation of disaffected American youth.

Then something went wrong. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back was dirtier and more expensive than any of its View Askewniverse predecessors, yet it fell well short of its anticipated box office and critical success. Jersey Girl was to be the writer/director’s evolution from adolescent dick jokes to refined, grown-up wit. While not without its limited charms, it too failed to live up to the hype. His next two movies, Clerks II and Zack and Miri Make a Porno, were more or less competent and moderately well-received, but neither is the kind of movie you stick around to watch again when it happens to be playing on HBO. And don’t get me started about Cop Out. Tracy Morgan should never be allowed to do anything except play himself on 30 Rock. The man is a menace.

Think our casual homophobia will come up later? Nah.

The story: Smith’s latest effort, Red State, follows three high school boys who are shocked to discover the internet is a convenient way to set up shady sex encounters with strangers. Even more shocking: there happens to be an available lady just a few miles outside their podunk southern town who is eager to fuck all three of them at once. Actually, that is pretty surprising.

They borrow mom’s car and head off to meet their destinies. But, whoops, looks like the MILF of their dreams is an acolyte in the movie’s version of the disgusting real-life Westboro Baptist Church. Whereas the insane members of the WBC seem content to be hideous, ignorant, attention-starved bigots, Red State‘s Five Points Trinity Church (wait, how many points in a trinity?) is dedicated to the immediate and violent eradication of godless heathens of all stripes.

God hates underarm odor.

The half-naked teens awake from their roofied beers – like the booze alone wouldn’t do the trick – to find themselves captives in a bona fide Christian extremist compound, right down to the arsenal of automatic weapons and passel of adorable, homo-hating toddlers. Today’s sermon deals with punishing would-be fornicators. Bingo to follow!

I can't believe something I read on the internet wasn't true!

Biggest letdown: Despite his lackluster recent track record, I’m still a Kevin Smith fan. I was excited for Red State, if for no reason other than to see what the creator of Dante, Brodie and Amy could do with a horror piece. The result is a lot like a scary movie version of what Jersey Girl did for romantic comedies, in that Smith takes a straightforward genre premise and twists it around to his liking. Unfortunately, novel as it sometimes is, Red State is just as forgettable as Jersey Girl, though mercifully with much less Liv Tyler.

Part of the problem lies in Smith’s unwillingness to bend to convention, even when it’s appropriate. This can lead to interesting results, but just as often it draws focus from the horror of the trapped kids’ predicament to the detriment of the narrative. Just an example: at one point the faithful are about to get busted for killing someone, but they trot out a blackmail scheme that plausibly maintains the status quo. It was a smart way to raise the tension and delay the final confrontational. Yet instead of using that time to explore the nightmare inside the compound as most horror movies would, Smith soon veers straight back to a weirdly uninteresting gun battle that drags on for far too long.

This isn't from the movie. It's a Nutrisystem commercial.

Why you should watch: Smith’s star still shines bright enough to attract a nice ensemble. In addition to a ton of memorable cameos, a slimmed down John Goodman headlines as a solid foil to the film’s single most impressive feature, Michael Parks as the charming leader of the murderous cult. I read somewhere that Quentin Tarantino – you may recall Parks as the suave Latin pimp, Esteban, in Kill Bill – called him the world’s greatest living actor. I’m not convinced Q was just being hyperbolic on that one. It kills me that an actor with such obvious charisma and ability (not to mention a ridiculously awesome, gravelly voice) isn’t a household name. He should be sitting on a pile of awards show hardware by now.

Allow me to present...the man.

Memorable Moment: The crazed pastor is introduced to the audience as he delivers a phenomenal, soft-spoken monologue to his rapt congregation. In the hands of a lesser writer (and actor), this scene would likely list toward spiritual revivalist cliché, full of phony gyrating and “Can I get an Amen!” hoopla. Instead, Smith and Parks provide a thoughtful, articulate meditation on the nature of God as a vindictive monster who only loves those who fear him. The calm rationality of his argument is unsettling. The gagged man strapped to a cross behind him doesn’t help.

Choice quote: “Cheyenne, bunny rabbit, you mind taking the children out for their lessons? Cuz it’s, ah, gonna get grown up in here.”

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5 Responses to “Red State (2011)”

  1. […] Red State – May Jay and Silent Bob strike me down. […]

  2. […] Red State – May Jay and Silent Bob strike me down. […]

  3. Hmm, watched the trailer and I’m not sure what all is actually supposed to be going on here. The kids are going to get wrapped in cellophane and set on fire, I get that much, but then…they escape, get some machine guns, and have a shoot out with the police?

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