When the credits for Kevin Smith’s new film “Red State” began to roll, my mind recalled a line of dialogue from Smith’s 1997 film “Chasing Amy.” Holden has walked up to Alyssa and handed her his new comic book, which accounts the story of their lost love. She looks at him somberly, he looks back and says, “I finally had something personal to say.”
Through all the bile and vulgarity, “Red State” is Smith finding something personal to say. Only this time, it doesn’t come with poop jokes and multiple references to male genitals. The message is delivered with the word of Jesus and the business end of an assault rifle.
The premise is simple: Three under-grown walking teenage hormones, (Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner and Nicholas Braun), answer an online personal to meet an older woman for sex. They arrive at a trailer where they meet Sarah, (Academy-award winner Melissa Leo), and the situation quickly turns into a nightmare scenario. The boys have been kidnapped by the fanatical Five Points Church, which Smith has obviously modeled after the fanatically crazy Westboro Baptist Church. The church is led by the charismatic, gentle and insane Abin Cooper, (Michael Parks in an award-worthy role),
who has convinced his followers that the only way to protect themselves from abomination and sin is to purge themselves of it. There is no need for the incredibly violent details, I hope you get the picture.
Through chance encounters, the ATF is called in to intervene, turning the entire scenario into another public relations disaster for the federal government. Special Agent Keenan ( John Goodman ) is not really clear as to why the feds are intervening with the Five Points Church at that juncture. With morality being questioned on both sides of the shootout, the violent situation comes to an ironic and humorous close.
And that is the only humor to be found. Smith, known for being the lowest-common denominator in comedy today, has taken all that criticism to heart. And instead of getting sentimental on his audience and making another fiasco like “Jersey Girl,” Smith got angry, smoked some marijuana and watched some movies. While the visual style was taken from other horror films like “Hostel” and “Saw,” “Red State” is a much superior product than both of these, and that is due to the strength of Smith’s screenplay and the brilliant performances of Leo and Parks.
Through all the paranoid ramblings the characters onscreen, it is clear that Kevin Smith does not hate our government and fanatical churches; he fears them. The proof lies in the finished film. Why would a filmmaker known for one-dimensional characters such as Jay and Silent Bob all of a sudden change everything he knows and make this kind of movie? Maybe truth was stranger than fiction for Smith.
Or maybe Kevin Smith finally had something personal to say.