Good, Bad & Ugly Review: Red State

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 57% (Critics) 59% (Audience)
Directed By: Kevin Smith
Written By: Kevin Smith
Starring: Michael Parks, Melissa Leo and John Goodman
Studio: SModcast Pictures

Synopsis: RED STATE is Kevin Smith‘s take on horror with the focus of the movie being a fundamentalist religious church (inspired by the real life religious groups like The Westboro Baptist Church) and the extreme measures the church takes when dealing with those they consider to be sinners.

The movie centers around a group of 3 high school friends who use an online hook-up site to set up a date for some group sex with a horny middle-aged woman. Things go horribly wrong once the boys arrive at the cougar’s trailer and are summarily drugged by the woman who turns out to be the daughter of Abin Cooper, the leader of the local religious nutcase group, and taken to the church’s compound where they are scheduled to be killed in an odd ritual that involves being stripped to their skivvies and tied to a cross using Saran Wrap.

From here the movie starts to exhibit some serious schizophrenic tendencies as it devolves from what was billed as a horror movie into some bizarre dramatization based on the events of the Branch Davidian siege in Waco. It is a jolting shift too because the movie seemed to be setting itself up as a Hostel-type of torture porn movie with undertones of religious and social commentary wedged in for good measure. The final product is not good at all though. I found so much about this movie to be bad actually. The jarring tonal shifts, the shaky camera work, the heavy handed moralizing on everything from organized religion to government malfeasance, the weird creative decision to mimic the directing style of Rob Zombie of all people. I don’t know what the hell was going though Smith’s head as he made this movie. There also was the completely unnecessary subplot of the in the closet sheriff that added nothing to the movie at all aside from giving Smith an opportunity to trot out a bunch of racist and homophobic insults for a good minute and a half. I also have to point out the performance of John Goodman as the lead ATF agent investigating the church. I am a fan of Goodman’s (he was great in ROSEANNE and absolutely killed in THE BIG LEBOWSKI) but he was just off to me in this flick. There is a difference between giving an understated performance and sleepwalking and Goodman veered into sleepwalking territory in this one. The only good thing about this movie is the performance by Michael Parks as Abin Cooper. He was really good at conveying the frightening ease with which a so-called man of God could use religion to justify all manner of horrible behavior.But aside from Park’s impressive performance the rest of the movie was a clusterfuck of epic proportions.

Final Verdict: But by the end of RED STATE I was left wondering exactly what the point of it all was? The movie is not entertaining or enjoyable. It is not even good enough to make viewers uncomfortable or force them to ask questions about society and their own behavior. Its just an exercise in vanity by a director who was completely out of his comfort zone. At the very least Smith could have gone the dark comedy route with this movie instead of the deadly serious tone he took that just made sitting through the entire thing a chore. Even better would have been if Smith did a documentary on the real Westboro Baptist Church. Fred Phelps, his oldest daughter Shirley (the family spokesperson) and the rest of their clan may be a collection of close minded, judgmental, batshit crazy assholes but they are not boring subjects and at the very least we could have gotten some new video of the Phelps Gals singing anti-gay cover versions of pop songs. Instead we got Silent Bob attempting (and failing miserably) to be a serious auteur. D

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