Director Kevin Smith crafts a fiery polemic about Christian fundamentalism and American values, in the story of a trio of horny teenagers who get more than they bargained for when they accept an online invitation for sex.
Like a cut rattlesnake, Kevin Smith spits some serious venom in his rant against everything from religious extremism to government-sanctioned murder, Red State. Flagrantly disinterested with gentility and audience expectations, Smith has rediscovered the cage-rattling mojo that first got him noticed back in 1994. Red State will piss off a lot of people for a lot of reasons, but it’s impossible not be swept up in its manic energy and confrontational politicking.
After establishing his wise-arse indie credibility with the landmark Clerks and the breakout hit Chasing Amy (1997), New Jersey-born Smith headed to the West Coast, but the result – the cynical cash-in of Clerks 2 (2006), the blah Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008) and the god-awful Cop Out (2010) – hinted at a manacled creative spirit. The L.A. lifestyle and stock conventions got the better of him, and it showed in his work.
The first act reeks of the type of conformity that’s hindered Smith over the last decade but beyond that, Red State is about as un-Hollywood as a modern American film can get. The opening sequence mimics many a teen-movie trope: three slacker high-schoolers (Michael Angarano, Nicholas Braun, Kyle Gallner) plan a secret late-night trip to the isolated trailer of online temptress Sara (Melissa Leo), but instead of indulging in a cherry-popping foursome, she orchestrates a 'roofie’ drugging and abduction. The language is raw and funny, as one expects, but there is little to distinguish the film’s early scenes (the first 20-minutes amounts to the promise of some American Pie-like smutting followed by a sharp turn into Hostel territory).
Smith’s film erupts at the midway point with the introduction of one Abin Cooper, the overseer of a cult-like, ultra right-wing compound of followers of which Sara is a fervent participant. Cooper, played with snake-oil salesman charm and an enigmatic Lecter-like stillness by the wonderful Michael Parks, holds his small flock mesmerised as he delivers a wheezy, hate-filled sermon about the evils of society, especially the so-called 'homosexual plague". It is revealed our three lads are to be made bloody examples in the church’s stance against promiscuity. As word of their internment leaks out, ATF officials (lead by a superb, slimmed-down John Goodman) descend upon the fortified ranch and a blazing firefight ensues.
Though Smith will have a helluva time getting the film seen in the American heartland referenced in the title, his diatribe is not just against the good ol’ gun-totin’ fundamentalists. Arse-covering bureaucrats manipulating new anti-terrorist laws and two-faced small-town officialdom (personified by the always-hilarious Stephen Root as the wimpering, closeted sheriff) are shown no mercy. Nor are the characters one expects to emerge as the heroes of a less-subversive genre piece. (Don’t get too close to any young, pretty characters or support players with solid acting resumes.) Only the most humane survive Smith’s razor-like dissection of modern America’s crumbling social and political landscape.
Smith intends to self-distribute the movie in North America, following an Oscar-qualifying run at Hollywood’s legendary fleapit The New Beverly (now owned and operated by Quentin Tarantino). Despite the likes of Parks, Goodman and Smith’s high quality script, it’s unlikely the Academy will get behind Red State; the broad popularity that Academy voters tend to favour, is the one thing this film will likely not enjoy. Though, one doubts whether Kevin Smith will lose sleep over any industry snubbing. After snoozing for too long under Hollywood’s wing, he seems to have decided that there are more important things to worry about.