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STUDIO: The Harvey Boys
RUNNING TIME: 88 Minutes
• “The Making of Red State” Documentary
• “Red State of the Union” SModcasts
• Deleted Scenes
• A Conversation with Michael Parks
King Fanboy trades dick and farts for death and Phelps.
Director/Screenwriter Kevin Smith
Cast: Michael Parks, John Goodman, Melissa Leo, Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner, Nicholas Braun, Kerry Bishe, Stephen Root, Kevin Pollack, Marc Blucas, Patrick Fischler, James Parks, Betty Aberlin
Three friends in high school are lured to a decrepit trailer in Cooper’s Dell due to promise of a gangbang. Things go horribly wrong and the three are held captive by Abin Cooper and his congregation/hate group. Hostel- lite shenanigans begin. However it’s only a matter of time before the Feds are made aware and they begin to move in and a standoff is in the cards…
In my mid-to-late teens, Kevin Smith could do no wrong. Clerks. was a film that I held in the highest veneration, alongside era-specific masterworks such as Pulp Fiction & Seven. The bile directed toward Mallrats didn’t make sense to me, because I was already looking for something like Clerks. And it brought us all the master-of-cool Jason Lee ! By the time Chasing Amy hit theaters, I had watched (and re-watched) both of these films ad nauseum. While the love triangle element didn’t truly resonate, I ate up the Hooper X monologues and anything that featured Banky Edwards. “Oh Kevin & Jason, purveyors of comedic delights, can you do anything wrong?” I would exclaim to the heavens.
When Dogma was given a release date, then delayed, then slated for release again, my anticipation had spiked. The idea of Smith, directing another button-pusher, bringing in elements of genre for the first time sounded sublime. It was made even more enticing by cast full of inimitable 1997-style cool such as Damon, Affleck, Rock, Morrisette. Even Lee! Suffice it to say, I could be found in an art-house once the film hit Cleveland. It was seen and…it was alright. Sure it fulfilled the requisite dick & fart joke quota and had handfuls of geek-culture references, and a shitdemon. Alas, something was still not right. The film felt flat and forced. I shrugged this off to my high expectations and excitedly awaited the film’s DVD release, which would be chockablock with enough Smith-related hilarity to make up for it. And it did…sorta.
This serves in stark contrast to my interest in Smith’s Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back. I missed the film in theaters entirely, preferring to purchase it on DVD. Something, young readers, Americans did extremely frequently from approx. the year 2000 – 2006. Hovering over my laptop, I sat there in almost constant silence, and questioned if I was the problem here. Once Afroman’s “Then I Got High” starting playing over the end credits, I wasn’t happy. In fact it made me downright sad. It was the Smith film to make me question all that come before. And upon review, they didn’t hold up for me. Up was down, left was right and Jason Lee had become a Scientology-affiliated douche…
From there it was short films for Jay Leno, the one with Bennifer and a chance to work with the ghost of Bruce Willis’ career. None of these inspired much excitement in a former acolyte and eventual viewings confirmed that I was right to be apathetic. Then the announcement of “Red State” happened.
Red State is what Kevin Smith referred to as his “foray into horror” and was originally presented via a series of atmospheric and decidedly un-”View Askew” images/ posters. Then came the casting bits and my, along with many others, interest started to rise. Michael “Earl McGraw” Parks himself would star. John Goodman would be central to the plot. And there was no Jason Lee, thank heavens!
After learning that the film would focus on a Westboro Baptist style church, it was safe to say that I had modest expectations. As the film began proper, I wasn’t necessarily disappointed either. Sure, there is a trio of archetypal stoner horndogs (Michael Angarano, Nicholas Braun and Kyle Gallner) and quite a ridiculously long lecture/exposition marathon given by their teacher. The material was involving enough that quibbles like this could be cast aside. These three end up with a woman who wants to gangbang (naturally played by Academy Award Winner Melissa Leo in the middle of Cooper’s Dell, i.e. nowhere. The moments before their imminent peril have a sense of dark comedy that isn’t seen in the Smith oeuvre often.
We’re thrust into the Five Points Church during Reverend Abin Cooper’s (Michael Parks, fantastic) sermon. Parks sells Cooper as someone that is hateful and hateworthy, but provides many shades of gray as to keep the character interesting. This is especially key during the almost 10 minute (!) scene. Parks may keep the scene afloat, but it’s the precise scene in which Smith’s abilities begin to fail him again.
The incessant talkiness of his previous work may have lead to forced scenes in his comedies, but this same sort of dialogue in something more high-minded stops the film in it’s tracks. Especially when alot of the dialogue is largely redundant, with no flair for subtlty. The lack of subtlety & restraint in dialogue rears it’s ugly head once again when we are introduced to ATF agent Joseph Keenan (played by everyone’s favorite John Goodman). Here is also given a roughly 10 minute chunk of monologue where he is talking to a superior over a phone. It starts in the wee hours of the morning and then carries over to the breakfast table, where he originally starts on a cordless but he switches to a Bluetooth. It’s all handled so awkwardly and the dialogue so unnatural that it stops the film in it’s tracks again. Unfortunately it’s all downhill from here.
Keenan ends up leading a raid on the Five Points Church (along with Kevin Pollock for some reason) and this sequence is where Smith completely lost me. At this point the film crosscuts between the ATF, the militarized congregation of Five Points, and strange looking survivor Gallner. All of it is a load of boring. The shoot-out is handled with little visual penache, mostly just overcranked footage that assumedly is supposed to evoke Saving Private Ryan but more resembles any number Uwe Boll films.
The ATF agent ends up getting orders to do whatever it takes to end the stand-off (i.e. killing any and all members of the Church) in another scene where he barks into a phone. This leads to no less than 3 moments where characters are about to surrender or try to explain that they aren’t part of the Church and getting shot point blank in the head. It plays out in a more ludicrous fashion than it sounds.
I won’t go into the final moments here, partially due to spoilers and partially due to my lack of interest in the denoument. It’s a final scene that features Goodman with yet another ludicrous monologue which lays out film’s themes in an extremely on-the-nose manner it’s laughable.
It is worth mentioning that this moment is extremely redolent of the end of “Burn After Reading” and Smith himself mentions the Coen Brothers as an influence on a number of SMODcasts included on the disc. This at least made me understand what Smith was trying to do, or more appropriately try to emulate. While I do appreciate Kevin’s ambition (a word linked to this moveas much as ‘failure’) and think that the first 25 – 30 minutes promise a solid piece of entertainment. But ultimately Red State didn’t work for me, and quite frankly, I don’t think Kevin Smith does anymore either.
What you see is what you get. Enjoyment of the extras largely depends on whether you like Red State or not.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars