Kevin Smith made this movie?

Kevin Smith made this movie?

Waste of Time
Nov 20, 2011
2 Comments

Earlier this fall a little know film, pharmacist Red State, healing showed up on DVD and VOD. Popular filmmaker, Kevin Smith (Clerks, Chasing Amy, Dogma, etc…) has garnered a fair bit of attention this year with his controversial little film. So, what’s it about, you ask? Well, allow me to share. With the initial focus on three teenage boys, they find themselves being invited through a chat-site to have group sex with an eager woman at her trailer home. Being three red-blooded American boys, they take her up on the offer. Unfortunately, she turns out to be a member of a radical evangelical church and in turn, drugs them, cages them and has them brought before the charismatic leader during a church service. To make them pay for their sins, he prepares to kill the boys, but it all goes wrong. One thing leads to another and before you know it, we have a classic Waco stand-off between the crazy cult and the ATF. That’s the movie in a nutshell. “Sounds interesting enough”, I thought. “And it’s Kevin Smith! I love that guy!”

Smith is known for creating honest, dialogue-driven movies where he compels the viewer to experience something few of us experience and yet can all, oddly, relate to. Well, let it be known that Red State is an immense departure from Smith’s usual approach. And kudos to Smith for having the balls to try something different. Unfortunately, he fails…miserably. For starters, there is no consistent character focus. We start with the teenage boys, but soon the focus moves to the crazy religious people. Then half-way through the movie the focus is on ATF Agent Keenan (John Goodman). Essentially, we feel nothing for anyone because Smith never takes the time to nurture any of his characters, with the exception of maybe John Goodman’s character. But I think Goodman’s acting is what makes Agent Keenen so compelling. Instead, Smith puts the story and the “message” centre-stage. But it’s a story and a message most of us know through the news. So, there’s nothing new or engaging here. Just a fictionalization of a real problem in America.

What’s worse is the pacing. It starts out with typical Smith dialogue between three teenage boys. But soon we’re watching a bad excerpt from a Saw movie. Not funny and not thought-provoking. Just wrong. Then we get stuck in a 15 minute monologue from the preacher. Seriously. We watch the better part of an entire sermon from a crazy, religious nut. Smith makes a point with it, but he could have made the same point in about 3-4 minutes and it would have had far greater impact. Then it turns into this frantic action movie with long, dramatic bits thrown in for good measure. I don’t know what to classify this movie as. It’s not an action film. It’s not a political-thriller. It’s not a “horror” movie as Smith bills it. I don’t know what it is.

And perhaps it’s just me, but I was so irked by the portrayal of the church leader, Abin Cooper. In his speech, he is clearly a caricature of the notrious, Fred Phelps from Westboro Baptist Church. The hate speech and anti-gay rhetoric is identical to hearing Phelps speak himself. But his appearance; the casual clothes, the go-tee, the shaggy hair is very un-Phelps-like. In fact, it’s more akin to David Koresh of the Branch Davidian. This mash-up of Koresh and Phelps is so obvious that it’s annoying. As well, it’s unconvincing. I mean, both people are/were crazy and religious. But that’s where the similarities end. David Koresh was having sex with countless women in his cult while claiming to be the Messiah. In contrast, Phelps is a super-puritanical zealot who preaches against sexual sin and simply sees himself as a preacher of God’s wrath. So, while Red State’s villain is very much in line with Fred Phelps attitude ( the dude hates “sexual deviants” so much that he’s killing them) his appearance and recklessness reflect the spirit of Koresh, a very different kind nut-job. As a result, Abin Cooper comes off as contrived and unreal (even though Michael Parks does the the best he can with the character).

Ultimately, Red State feels like Kevin Smith trying his hand at a Coen Brothers film. Unfortunately, Kevin Smith is nothing like the Coen Brothers. He doesn’t have the eye for art direction or the subtlety of sub-text. And that’s okay. Kevin Smith is great at saying it like it is, making audiences laugh ’til they hurt, all while making us think and feel. But this movie does none of that. In fact, this movie does a whole lot of nothing. While it’s good for a director to stretch into unfamiliar territories, clearly Smith lost himself in Red State.


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Craig the Critic

Comments:

  1. Was it really that bad? i was really looking forward to a “Clerk-esqe” movie.

    • Sorry, but it’s about as far removed from Clerks as one could imagine.

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