If you needed further proof that Kevin Smith is, at heart, still an amateur filmmaker, look no further than RED STATE.
It’s juvenile, not in his usual sense with toilet humor, but in its execution. Poorly written, poorly plotted, poorly shot, poorly edited, and so on. With the exception of acting, there isn’t much up to snuff here.
Smith decided to make something decidedly different for a change, which is good. For me his comedies are all hit and miss and tend to fall flat for anyone over the age of 17. I sure thought MALLRATS was the shit for a while, but I rewatched it recently and, well, it’s not. But still, he has his place, and people like him, so whatever.
I don’t know why he keeps selling RED STATE as a straight horror film, because it’s not. In any way. There’s a tense, horror-esque scene near the beginning, but after that it devolves into a straight forward action-type movie with a lot of gore (and gore does not equal horror). And he really had no choice as, given the way the story is set up, there’s no room left for anything to be scary once the ATF standoff starts.
The usual Smith hallmarks/problems are all there. The dialogue is 40% clumsy exposition, 50% preachy grandstanding, and 10% smart-ass filler. There are a few scenes where the exposition is just painful to sit through. The characters just vomit plot points without any subtlety, just because they need to be out there. There’s always got to be a certain amount of that in any movie, but it’s usually hidden as skillfully as possible. You fold it in with fleshing out your characters and setting. You mask it. Here, they just say it.
The characters are all flat and ankle deep. One note. See-through. In a comedy, this is usually OK (to a point) as many will just be there for laughs. Here, where it’s all dramatic, you end up with characters you just don’t care about and can’t pin down. Couple that with the fact there are a lot of characters spread around, some introduced very late, occasionally dying here and there, that there’s little time and reason to care.
Michael Parks, who plays the Fred Phelps-like preacher and villain, does his best (and a good job) trying to create a creepy and frightening religious nutjob. There’s a long scene, a very long scene, with him leading his church and preaching all creepily. But that’s all we see, his character does nothing much later. He’s given nothing to work with or do. It’s disappointing, as at least a compelling villain could help carry the film, but instead it completely shifts focus to John Goodman.
And John Goodman, who is always great, does a commendable job here. His problem, sadly, is movement. As in he can’t convincingly move as the scene demands. As the ATF commander in charge when a shootout starts, he can’t rush and hurry and be physically demanding. He lumbers, he’s slow, he’s strained. It could have been edited differently to hide that, but it wasn’t. It’s not that important ultimately, but it was distracting.
And speaking of editing, Kevin Smith did a really terrible job here. He usually edits his own movies, but he’s usually been editing comedy up until now. And he just can’t do it. Weird cuts, odd take choices, it’s all bad.
So, as per the usual, the film is weighed down by Smith. The story and dialogue is too weighed down by it’s preachiness (about religion and government), the actors held down by thin characters, and the action held down by poor shooting and editing. Not a moment of the final sequence is thrilling or tense or interesting. And, ultimately, not a moment of the film as a whole is compelling.