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Red State

2011 | 88 min | Unrated | 1.85:1

Red State


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User reviews

5 user reviews

Movie appeal



Theatrical release date

 05 March, 2011
 30 September, 2011

Country of origin

 United States

Box office




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Red State


Screenshots from Red State Blu-ray

Red State Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, September 1, 2011

With “Red State,” writer/director Kevin Smith seeks a darker path of storytelling, directly contrasting a career made up of profane comedies and barbed but cuddly relationship dramas. Part chiller, part lecture, “Red State” is a jumble of ideas and characterizations tossed haphazardly into an unnervingly disconnected motion picture, which often feels unfinished and calculated instead of winningly feral. Yes, “Red State” is unlike anything Kevin Smith has made before, but it’s also the least effective feature of his career.

In the South, three boys (Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner, and Nicholas Braun) are looking online for easy sex, finding a mysteriously willing woman (Melissa Leo) located near their hometown. Soon drugged and bound, the dim-witted teens are brought into the Five Points Trinity Church, overseen by the controversial fundamentalist Pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks). A man who loves God and detests homosexuality and sexual deviancy, Cooper prepares to murder the boys in front of his devoted congregation. Outside, a larger problem develops with the arrival of ATF agents, led by Keenan (John Goodman), who prepare to storm Cooper’s compound and slaughter everyone inside.

“Red State” hints at tremendous solemnity, yet Smith has gripped the black heart of the plot with a cartoon hand. The script encounters a series of stereotypes and monologists in search of deeper meaning, with Smith positioning uncomfortably broad performances and unsatisfactory low-budget filmmaking moves to create a pit of doom that never feels as inescapable as the director imagines. Patterned off the world of Fred Phelps (leader of the Westboro Baptist Church) and the 1993 Branch Davidian siege in Waco, Texas, “Red State” arrives with a distinct historical and societal mirror, yet its shoelaces are tied together, fumbling to comment on such disparate topics as Amendment rights and Patriot Act authority while staging extended shoot-outs and windy sermons. Smith is certainly ambitious with this one, but his cinematic vision is hopelessly clouded.

“Red State” is actually a few different films poorly stitched together, with every turn of the plot handed only seconds to settle in. It’s a short picture (81 minutes), making thoughtful characterizations futile, forcing Smith to turn to caricatures to make an instant impression. Early scenes with the teens and their backwoods boner issues are ridiculous, displaying a greasy trio sporting rattails, mouthfuls of dip, and an addiction to the F-word gallivanting into the night on the hunt for willing women. Smith fails to create human figures of hormonal urge that encourage an investment from the viewer. Instead, they’re cheap jokes sent off to be slaughtered.

“Red State” leans on the obvious for the entire run time, extending to Cooper and his quest to restore the “moral spine” of America by killing helpless homosexuals literally plastic wrapped to an enormous cross inside his sparsely attended church. What should be nightmare material is spun indulgently by Parks and his showy performance as Cooper, handed a 15-minute-long, wholly tedious mid-movie sermon to spew by Smith, who’s clearly enamored with his star, unwilling to find unforgettable shape to Abin’s alleged menace. There’s also brutally pedestrian cinematography from Dave Klein, who lights the film brilliantly, only to ruin the fear factor with trendy touches such as shaky-cam and body-mounted cameras, shattering the macabre spell by heading in painfully obvious visual directions.

The last act details the ATF siege of the Cooper property, twisting a dim feeling of dread into a routine actioner, though Smith attempts to subvert the norm by staging a few surprises in the massacre department. Moving from Abin and his rural rubes to the flippant concerns of Keenan provides “Red State” with a different type of sermonizing, this time from Smith, who clearly has issues with the abuse of governmental powers to silence undesirables, showing the ATF officials pushed into despicable acts of murder they’re not entirely comfortable with. Of course, the Five Points Church actually engages in terroristic acts, which confuses the concluding point of the movie. Then again, there’s really nothing in “Red State” that’s thought out in full. Smith simply sprints, trusting shock value and heavily pronounced acts of disgust will suffice.

Just when “Red State” begins to limp to a close, Smith suggests a holy event that would elevate the picture from a disappointment to a cinematic miracle. It’s a Hail Mary pass that he’s encountered before, with 1999’s audacious comedy “Dogma,” yet Smith displays reluctance to shake the feature up, playing off a daring twist as an extended joke. It’s utterly deflating.

As a series of dissimilar encounters with random people, “Red State” never creeps under the skin as Smith intends. It’s a superficial effort based more on gimmicks than substance, more about meaningless words than stunning confrontations. I welcome artistic growth from Smith, but this picture constantly misfires, failing to congeal as a harrowing portrait of power gone mad.

Starring: Michael Parks, Melissa Leo, John Goodman, Kaylee Anne DeFer, Michael Angarano, Joey Figueroa
Director: Kevin Smith (I)

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Kevin Smith’s Red State 101 Sep 19, 2011

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