September 18, 2014

Movie Review: Red State

Well, I finally got around to watching Red State and while I give credit to Kevin Smith for reaching and trying for something a little ambitious and drastically different than his career so far has delivered, I cannot help but respond with a resounding: “meh.” I know, that doesn't sound all that good, but the movie is not great either. It is certainly a step up from Cop Out, but it feels lacking in many areas. It is kind of like taking a couple of different films and smashing them together in an effort to shuffle them (similar to Green Lantern). The end result is a movie that has no consistent tone or interesting character. It is certainly watchable, but for how long?

The answer to that is about 88-minutes, the running time of the movie. Again, it is far from terrible, but it exists on a surface level, never really digging into the meat of the matter. It is somewhat content to try and shock and awe the audience without actually going to that next level and making it really interesting or, preferably, really weird. Now, to be sure, this is a bit different from Smith's previous work, for one, the camera moves, a lot. Another difference is that while there is some humor, this is not a comedy. This is a drama/thriller/horror/action hybrid thing.

Red State starts out with a bunch of exposition, telling us about the Fred Phelps-esque Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) and his Five Points Church, with the careful inclusion that Cooper is not actually meant to be a stand in for Phelps. He is a gay-hating preacher whose congregation picketss funerals and holds protests, when they aren't holed up in their Waco-style compound. From there we meet a trio of teens (led by Michael Angarano from The Forbidden Kingdom) who are interested in finding some action.

The trio find a craigslist style website with women looking for partners. They find a local 38-year old woman (played by Melissa Leo) who wants a foursome with three guys. Thinking they found the jackpot, they race out that night to make their dreams come true. Before long, they are given drugged beer and find themselves tied up and awaiting slaughter by Abin Cooper and his clan.

This horrific drama gives way to a siege film, ATF agents (led by John Goodman), ostensibly a good man forced to follow some bad orders. You see, they get charged with pretty much wiping out the folks inside the compound. All this leading up to a weird ending speech that explains what just happened.

Being a Kevin Smith movie, there is a lot of talking, and some of that talking leads to the best performances in the film, but it also feels like I am being kept at arms length. For example, Parks portrayal of Cooper is pretty fantastic, but his sermonizing runs so long that I begin not to care, even while his character is built up. It is an interesting thing, watching this play out.

It is not a terrible film, just one whose flaws mount up and accumulate to the detriment of the movie as a whole. It gets to certain points and it wants to be surprising and goes that way, it may seem shocking in the short term, but it doesn't really build up to anything. I felt nothing for any of the characters. There is a theme that the good guys are just as bad as the bad guys, but considering that no one is all that likable.

In the end, I came away with a very meh reaction to it. It has some performances that help elevate it above the bad films into the merely mediocre. It feels like an experiment in style. Proof that his skills have grown and he can do more than what he is known for. It also feels a bit like a director's first film, getting his feet wet, trying to be different and stand out from the crowd. Red State stands firmly in the middle, offering up a little interesting commentary while never trying to truly elevate.

Mildly Recommended.

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