Director: Kevin Smith.
Starring: Michael Parks, John Goodman, Michael Angarano, Melissa Leo, Kerry Bishe, Nicholas Braun and Kyle Gallner.
BBFC Cert: 18
2010 was a pretty rubbish year to be Kevin Smith. Of the twin embarrassments Smith suffered over that twelve month period it is difficult to know which was the more humiliating: being thrown off a Southwest Airlines flight over staff concerns that his obesity represented a safety risk or being the director of Cop Out. That movie (appalling cop spoof nonsense involving Bruce Willis) and the subsequent hateful reviews which dropkicked it into oblivion have been the low point of a directorial career which had, if truth be told, been on a downward slope for the best part of a decade.
Since those dark days Smith has lost 4 stone and directed Red State which arrives this week on DVD. The film opens by introducing us to three American Pie-ish young fellows Travis (Angarano), Billy Ray (Braun) and Jared (Gallner) who are bored and horny in a shit-kicking Deep South American town. In order to relieve both of these ailments Travis has been chatting to a woman online who has invited all three of the boys over to her trailer for a foursome. Enthusiastically they set off and, upon arrival, are met by Sarah (Leo) who invites our heroes in and plies them with alcohol. Just as they are about to get down to business, however, the three boys start feeling lightheaded and collapse on the trailer floor. On waking they find themselves caged up in the headquarters of a gun crazy Christian cult, led by Abin Cooper (Parks), who are holed up waiting for the end of days while sacrificing homosexuals and “perverts” they locate over the web. Things quickly descend into madness when the boys try to make a break for it and gunfire is overheard at the property by the local law. This brings the ATF and Agent Joseph Keenan (Goodman) to the door at which time things look set to escalate into an all-out shit fight of Waco proportions.
The main criticism thrown at Red State upon its cinema release last year was that it was,with the best will in the world, an undisciplined piece of work. And true Smith’s latest shows little regard for solid narrative structure, lurching in focus from one character to the next whilst taking a bludgeoning approach to the political points it is trying to score. Yet to point these out as negatives is to miss what makes Red State such tremendously good fun.
It is a film made clearly by a director who dropped out of film school without sweating over the three act structure or the need to wrap up a satisfying arc for each of his characters. Rather, Smith is a filmmaker who is concerned chiefly with satisfying his own sense of what is and isn’t fun to watch and in a culture where genre filmmakers have become so rigidly obsessive about formula as it was fed to them in film class, Red State’s wildness is a blast. The actors have a great time too, particularly Parks giving a career best turn as the crazed patriarch of the gay bashing Christian kooks and Leo as his cheery, eerie daughter. Their mad, evangelical dialogue and furious devotion is perfectly placed somewhere between friendly cheese ball and raving fire and brimstone, nailing that particularly American version of religious lunacy which is at once homely and terrifying.
Of course Red State is flawed – hilariously, deeply, shockingly flawed – and any sense of it as coherent political, social or religious commentary quickly disappears in all the gunfire. But it is not stupid nor is it unaware of its own ridiculousness. A terrific mess of a movie Red State sits amongst the most purely enjoyable cinema experiences of last year.