Kevin Smith‘s latest film Red State has generated the most amount of hype over any other film at this years Sundance film festival, mainly because the notoriously anti-press director wanted to keep things as hush hush as possible until the big premiere. Well, the Red State premiere has come and gone and the end result is a mixed bag of horror, action, and social commentary on a hot button issue in today’s political climate, home-bred religious fundamentalism. And while this is unlike any Kevin Smith movie you’ve ever seen, it’s clear that the smart alec writer still has some things to learn about making a great film.
The premise is simple enough and starts off as fairly engaging, despite filling the film with unlikable and unfunny characters that are hard to relate to. Three teenagers (Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner, Nicholas Braun) decide to answer a sex ad posted on the Internet to gang bang an older MILF, played by Melissa Leo (sounds like a Kevin Smith film right?). Well, this is where those similarities end, as the boys find themselves prisoners to a fringe group of radical fundamentalists (based on the controversial Westboro Baptist church), who are disgusted by homosexuality and the pervading immorality sweeping through the country. The way they intend to rid the country of its sins is by targeting individuals they deem unfit for human life and delivering sweet, sweet retribution.
Michael Parks plays the creepy pastor of the cult-like group, and for a good 20 minutes delivers a barrage of sermons demonizing their sins while forcing their victims to listen to his holy remarks before ending their lives. While this setup is convincingly unique, the film quickly shifts pace from a religious horror sermon and instead becomes a Waco like showdown between the swat teams of the ATF, headed up by John Goodman. This metamorphism and shift in tone is rocky and where the seams of Red State start to completely fall apart.
The final action sequence feels like it was shot and edited by Michael Bay, opting for a constant quick shot barrage of fundamentalists shooting high-powered rifles and people getting obliterated in the face. Because there are no real protagonists in the film, when characters start dying off left and right, there is no emotional connection. Its here that you realize Smith ran out of steam for his original setup, and rather opted to end things with a bloody bang bang shootout that results in one big loud and noisy distraction. While there are glimpses of Smith’s wry humor scattered throughout, Red State can’t help but feel like a B action movie that started off with ambitious ideas but collapses under it’s own preachy weight.