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Red State

by on October 19, 2011
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Crassness has always been part of Kevin Smith’s films. Usually the vulgarity and obscene sexual references come from characters who are still innocent creatures — often discussing trivial topics like employees of the Death Star or how to save a monkey. When he goes toward deeper subjects like complex relationships or religion, his characters still approach them with naivete as they fight for what’s good.

For the first time in his career, Smith is getting vicious. Most of his cast of characters in “Red State” are irredeemable in his mind — a thin metaphor for the Westboro Baptist Church and their leader Fred Phelps. The heroes have very little chance to be heroic because they are always being tortured or running for their lives. It’s a gutsy movie that doesn’t always succeed.

Smith has a knack for comedic dialogue that offers plenty of surprises and laughs. Using that to forward a drama proves difficult. Most of the movie is filled with unending monologues that lack the pacing and wit of his previous ventures. It always feels like unnecessary exposition, especially when a teacher has to explain who the national celebrity is who lives in their small town.

The strength in the film comes from its surprises. This is a ruthlessly violent movie that won’t stop once it gets going — unless characters need to talk for a long time in panic. It is often visually exciting in a very grimy way. What Smith chooses to do in the last 10 minutes represent some of the most brilliant things in his entire career. Well, eight of those minutes are great and two are too indulgent.

There is a reason why this movie needs to be reviewed as a comparison to the rest of Smith’s filmography. “Red State” by itself is a forgettable B-movie with an impeccable cast — including Melissa Leo, John Goodman, Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner, Stephen Root, Matt L. Jones, Kerry Bishé, Anna Gunn, Kevin Pollack and the mighty Michael Parks.

Seeing this as a Kevin Smith joint shows something greater. Directors like Martin Scorsese, Danny Boyle and Steven Soderbergh tend to switch genres every other time at bat. Smith has felt comfortable since “Clerks,” his 1994 breakout hit. “Red State” is such a radical departure in terms of story, visual style and content that it hardly even feels like Smith was behind it.

So much like “New York, New York,” “The Beach” and “The Good German,” I appreciate the ambition of the project more than the end result.

The DVD includes a number of behind-the-scenes bonus features that give a really thorough look at the history of the project — including the now infamous Sundance speech, which kicked off his self-distribution goals. They are sometimes a bit repetitive, but they do capture a lot.

Film: 3 Yaps
Extras: 4 Yaps