MOVIES: Red State

The long-awaited adaptation of Kevin Smith’s renowned “horror” script, “Red State” has finally been “delivered” to the masses.  Is it worth the hype?  Unfortunately, no, it’s not, although I may be in the minority.  Seems the View Askewers are all over this movie like Trekkies at a Shatner signing.  There are virtually all five star ratings on iTunes for this movie, which of course are from the average moviegoer.  It’s a little disheartening to see.  It really feels like the reviewers are in a cult, not unlike the one portrayed in the movie, and their leader is one Kevin Smith.

I’ve always enjoyed Kevin Smith’s work for the most part.  I think he’s a much better writer than a director and his best film is still (and likely always will be) “Clerks.”  Smith is not a technical director.  I have said before that where directors like Michael Bay have talent to spare in the style department and directors like Kevin Smith have talent to spare in the story department, it’s a damn shame we can’t find a way for them to do a “trade off” and mooch off of each other’s respectable skills.  Smith simply can’t find footing as a director.

Red State does show a small bit of technical prowess, but not enough to give him any real kudos; just a pat on the back and a half smile for trying.  The film is a product of Smith’s disgust for the abhorrent cult known as the Westboro Baptist Church, a group led by Fred Phelps, who is an enigmatic and hateful individual, preaching that “God hates Fags/Soldiers/America/etc…even comics!”  You have likely heard of Phelps and his flock of seagulls protesting at military funerals and causing quite the uproar.  He, along with his family, is without a doubt pimples on the ass of society.

Smith’s own disgust has morphed into “Red State,” which stands as a fictional account of a cult that is much in line with the Westboro group.  However, Smith deviates so much from the actual Westboro group that it becomes a stereotypical comedy.  If people are genuinely creeped out by the fictional group in Smith’s film, then they have no idea what the real Westboro group is.  The reality is far, far worse.

I have done extensive research on the Westboro Baptist Church as I am currently writing /drawing a graphic novel that features my own fictional version of these people.  When I heard about “Red State,” it dawned on me that there are many people that hate these people and are fascinated to a large extent.  Smith and I have this in common. Our stories diverge greatly, however.  I’ll let you be the judge when my story is complete, but until then we have “Red State” to contend with.

The story is very simple.  Three randy teenage boys find an ad for an older lady that wants to have a foursome and they head out one evening to make it a reality.  Once there, the boys are drugged and wake up in the church groups compound, where all “Hell” breaks loose.  The unfortunate part is that all three of the boys come off as the assholes that the group claims they are.  I couldn’t relate to a single character in the film.  And why?  Because every one of them is a stereotype, through and through.  There is not a single, defining characteristic or back-story element that propels their character a notch above the base.  What we get is what comes out of their mouths and that’s it.  Perhaps Smith wanted it that way.  He has been known for defining characters by words and deeds and not with back-story, so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised.

There are some noteworthy performances, the most obvious coming from Michael Parks as Abin Cooper, the charismatic cult leader and obvious “stand in” for the real life Fred Phelps.  He preaches insanity, just like Phelps, and then proceeds to have a gay man murdered in the church, while tied to a cross.  Why they would want to kill someone on the cross like Jesus makes no theological sense.  You would think that would be blasphemous.  Ah, but who knows the minds of madmen but madmen themselves?

In no short amount of time the local sheriff shows up looking for the missing boys’ car and hears gunshots, which prompts the ATF to the scene.  As expected, the flow of events is made up not of actual tactics and procedures by ATF agents (I’d be surprised if there were any kind of consultants on board) and everything is made up as Smith has seen portrayed on TV or in documentaries.  None of it measures up to reality.  And, I suppose, that’s my real problem with the film.  It has so much potential to be something great, but Smith, ever the “humble” filmmaker, plays it low key and low budget, as if he were afraid to step out of his comfort zone (he is).

Well, you can’t have your cake and eat it, too, Mr. Smith.  You’re either all in or not at all.  Red State feels like it was filmed on the weekends in someone’s back yard in a small town.  The only thing that differentiates is the number of well-known actors that show up to play.  John Goodman does a fine job in the role of the ATF agent in charge of the operation, but the script is so lame brained that you don’t buy anything he does.

The motives, actions, and “bureaucratic” nonsense that transpires is so off the wall that it’s insulting.  I mean, would it be so hard to Google what happens in these types of situations?  It’s absolutely amazing to me that shit gets made in Hollywood with little to no research at all.  They just slap it together and present it as real.  And the even sadder part is that people buy this shit.  Some idiotic teenagers are watching Red State right now and talking shit about the government, the ATF, the cops, and saying how they’re all out “to get” the every day citizen.  That there are kill squads in every department, ready to snuff out anyone for anything.  Oh, Jesus, please burn your copy of V For Vendetta and wake the fuck up.

The real world is a whole lot more complicated than Smith presents it.  A lot more goes into a situation like the one presented in Red State than is even slightly glossed over in the film.  It’s insulting, right down to the technical details.  It’s yet another picture of how the “government” is evil and chock full of “bad men” parading as the “good guys.”  For fucks sake…if you really believe that, then don’t ever call 911.  Just continue to live in your own paranoid sickness.

How many fucking times have you seen a movie where someone just picks up a gun and starts shooting it?  Also, how many times do you see a movie where the weapons are always fully loaded with a magazine in the chamber, cocked, locked, and ready to fire?  How about all the fucking time.  Dude, gun owners are a lot smarter than that.  Not all, but most.  Guns and ammo are kept separate.  I know, sounds crazy, right?  Wrong.  And ATF agents don’t get “kill” orders.  Give me a fucking break.  They don’t just get to equate a group as terrorists and have the right to just kill everyone on sight.  Especially today.  Regardless of media being on scene or not, there is no free pass.  Yeah, shit happens, but shit has consequences.

I am exhausted from the lack of reality portrayed in films, especially when the themes and situations are created for me to specifically believe that they would happen.  Come on.  Do some fucking homework already.  Let me get to know your characters.  Show me something.  You don’t have to tell me, just show me.  Give me something to relate to.  Make me believe in what I’m seeing by presenting it realistically, not just slapping it together and calling it good enough.

Once the bullets start flying in Red State, nothing else really happens.  More people get shot and it’s meant to shock us.  It does nothing of the sort for me.  Mostly, because I didn’t really care who lived or died.  There was nothing about any of the characters that said, “No, I want them to live.”  I could give a shit.

A lot of people say this movie will really “make you think,” and have you talking long after it’s over.  If it’s not about how ludicrous the film is then you’re wasting your breath.  You may be entertained by Red State to some degree, but it’s nothing special and offers nothing to assuage the disgust Smith feels toward Westboro, other than blind revenge, by making a stereotype of Fred Phelps’ clan that serves to fuel his fire even more, as it shows that Hollywood, even the “rebel” Kevin Smith, is just as fickle and stereotypical as all the rest.

To get a much better look into Westboro, check out this fascinating documentary.  It’s free to watch online and is a much more in depth and compelling film than Red State.





4 Responses to MOVIES: Red State

  1. Brian September 3, 2011 at 8:58 pm #

    Totally with you on this one. There was a lot of potential laid out here and I’ll even say I thought more of Smith’s visual direction on this one than you did, but this film is hollow in every sense. The script had to be 50 pages, tops. There were no character arcs or development to be found anywhere! Three major events just kinda happen, then it’s over. And you’re totally right! In what universe does this ATF squad operate?!?! Great review! You articulated nearly everything I was thinking perfectly.

    • Paul Shirey September 4, 2011 at 8:23 pm #

      Brian, your paragraph above is the perfect summation to my long-winded review. I meant to put the word “shallow” in my review, but “hollow” works just as well. This film is a shell in every sense of the word. Nothing happens internally. Everything happens on the surface and we learn nothing about anyone. Stephen Root’s “gay” sheriff was just so tired and stereotypical and obvious and just dumb. I am truly grateful there are men of intelligence, like yourself, who exist and are smart enough to discern how absolutely asinine films like this are. Sometimes I feel like I’m being the movie curmudgeon, but I am genuinely shocked at all the rave reviews from the “average” joe moviegoer. Are they all really that stupid? The ATF giving a “kill” order is just hilarious. And the fact that these guys would do that, as if they’re cold-blooded killers and not everyday Americans doing a job, with conscience, is just beyond me. I have friends who are cops and the process to become one is supremely difficult. The interview process alone, the psychological evaluations, everything. You don’t have to know a cop to know this. I realize that Smith’s version of cops are Bruce Willis and Tracey Morgan, so I get that he’d be oblivious as to what a real law enforcement officer does, but FUCK….there’s a thing called Google…and better yet…a show called COPS…it’s been on for decades…and a single half hour of cops has a hundred times the depth of Red State. I’m sorry View Askewers…Red State is not DA bomb, but A bomb…and a dud at that. As always, thanks for your comments, B.

  2. Moose Ninja December 8, 2011 at 3:31 pm #

    I think the further filmmakers keep their political agendas out of movies, the better movies will be.

    • Paul Shirey December 8, 2011 at 8:20 pm #

      I couldn’t agree more. While I think an agenda needs to be absent, I have no problem with tackling politics or religion as long as it’s not a one-sided mess. Smith is too far out of focus to say anything concise about either.

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