It seems easy… too easy. Red State, Kevin Smith’s horror opus, opens with three kids looking to score. Somehow the one with the curly hair convinces them all to go down on a chick he met on the internet in some glorious foursome with little more incentive than a faceless thumbnail on a tacky hookup site. It’s not long before they’re on their way to her trailer in the woods to get down when – bait and switch! – they wind up prisoners in a crazy church run by a fictionalized, militant version of Fred Phelps (y’know, the guy who runs the Westboro Baptist Church, the one that pickets soldiers’ funerals with ‘God Hates Fags’ signs? That one.). What begins as a colossal mess ends as one while writer/director Smith fumbles through a movie that doesn’t seem far removed from a fevered dream – not disturbing in any sense of terror, but at how awfully languid it is.
I’ve mentioned it on our podcasts before (yes, they’ll be back some day) that I enjoy Kevin Smith. In interviews, he comes off as very self-deprecating, but in a very ‘okay, I’m already acknowledging how bad I am, you don’t need to pile on’ sort of way. When he’s good, he’s on fire (recently, Zach & Miri Make a Porno) and when he’s not good, he’s really damn awful (recently, Cop Out). With the latter film, he’s tried to branch out into scary new forms of action-oriented filmmaking that he hasn’t quite conquered, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but he’s a guy who’s built his reputation on comedies stacked with amusing anecdotes. Branching out, he’s trying to re-purpose his approach, but rather than ending up with classic Tarantino-esque dialogue, he kills whatever his film is doing in order to push off these “heh?”-inspiring stories one after the other. Case in point: Smith stalls the movie twice to explain what this crazy church and its leader have been up to, as if the actors are reading straight from a Wikipedia article injected with Smith’s smarmy humor.
So those kids before? Forget them. It’s not long after the crazy preacher’s far-too-long sermon about the evils of the world (he’s played by a really good Michael Parks) that the congregation is declared domestic terrorists and we have an ol’ fashioned gunfight. Now the movie’s about ATF agent John Goodman and his stand off. Stephen Root (Milton from Office Space) is even in here to fill space as an incompetent sheriff for… well, whatever reason. There’s some interesting action, but there’s no fearful or exciting gore to be had (except for Kevin Pollack’s early demise), in fact there’s nothing fearful or exciting to be had anywhere in the film’s 88 minute run time. Smith says this is a horror film, but he can’t keep his story in order for very long, much less the tone of the film, which shifts from awkward action to awkward comedy between scenes. A subplot involving the church’s cute and slightly-more-sane blonde starts as endearing and ends up annoying as she will not shut up about saving the babies!
There’s absolutely nothing redeeming about this film. The violence isn’t satisfying, the crude humor isn’t satisfying, in fact, the climax is a mere deus ex machina in exchange for a crappy denouement. At this point, I don’t even know what Kevin Smith was trying to say about the Phelps family and their rancid, hateful congregation because he has failed so poorly to execute on this film. My hunch is that through self-production, he simply didn’t allow for any constructive criticism (a complaint that could be leveled at George Lucas) and let this film stew in its own juices for far too long. The Weinstein brothers, his backers since the beginning, weren’t even interested in funding the flick when he pitched it before producing Zack & Miri.
Kevin, please, let’s pretend this never happened.