WTF podcast, Ep. 141
Of course you are, Kevin. And that seems to be the crux of the issue with your entire career.
But, I digress. I'm here to review RED STATE, Smith's (allegedly) 2nd to last film before a self-imposed retirement. RED STATE is a failure, a mistake in a filmography filled with botched attempts. A clear case of a man in love with the sound of his own voice.
But, perhaps some history will help to understand why RED STATE was even made. In 1994, Kevin Smith's first film was released, forever altering the landscape of independent film. Love it or hate it, CLERKS is what made Kevin Smith, what put him on the map so to speak. CLERKS is a film about talking...there really is no other point to it. But what talking it is...the dialogue is fresh and interesting and pretty different from what Hollywood was churning out at the time. Too bad Smith had no money and no talent when it came to casting. Many of the stars of CLERKS are part-time actors, amateurs, and pals of Smith. Also, Smith filmed in black and white in order to avoid lighting issues with filming in color. He maxed out all of his credit cards and sold most of his comic books to fund the film. So, really, it's kind of a fluke that it was not only a hit...but a legitimate phenomenon.
Once Miramax picked up CLERKS at Sundance, it was simply the underground cult film to watch. At the time it came out I was 19 years old and I found it hilarious. In fact, everyone who was a teen in 1994 must have thought it was pretty great, because Smith has been doing some serious coasting on that fan base ever since CLERKS came on the scene. Here was a movie made by a nerdy fat nobody, FOR fat nobodys and nerds. Can you understand why Smith was appointed their savior and hero? Smith has admitted that his mere presence is a reminder to everyone that they can do exactly what he did. And while that is an inspiring sentiment, it's also quite grandiose. Kevin Smith's Number One Fan is Kevin Smith...and if you dare to find out more about that you need look no further than SMODCAST, the network of podcasts that he claims are now the ultimate expression of his "art."
But what is Smith's art? Talking. Bloviating, if you choose to be dismissive. Smith loves to fill acres and acres of hard drive space with the sound of himself expounding on the awesomeness of weed, how much he loves to eat his wife's asshole, and how Southwest sucks because he was so fat once they threw him off a plane. I'm dead serious. Oh, and he also likes to talk about jerking off, taking shits, and cum ropes. This is now Smith's artistic endeavor...recording himself talk about bullshit. Smith's podcasts fall under the "comedy" label...and if you enjoy fart, poop, and jizz jokes then yes they are comedy shows. I've been listening to a couple of Smith's podcasts (Smodcast and Jay and Silent Bob Get Old, for those interested) for about 6 months now and I think I've laughed about 10 times. Guess what isn't funny when you are sober: A stoned guy making ass-eating jokes.
But this is not about Smith's podcasts...you want to know what RED STATE is and if it's worth your money and time. Suuuuuuure it is...I think.
RED STATE is a departure for Smith, and I must give him credit for attempting something so very different from the rest of his filmography. His previous effort (not including COP OUT, which he just directed) was ZACH AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO, which can only be called god-awful and an embarrassment. Poorly written and directed in a way that makes CLERKS look like a DePalma film, ZACH AND MIRI was the straw that broke Smith's back. He freely admits (in one of his numerous Q&A sessions) that the failure of ZACH AND MIRI turned him into a giant stoner. Basically, it broke his brain. But one only has to watch ZACH AND MIRI to realize that he's no Judd Apatow, and that if you make a shitty movie, Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks can't save it no matter how funny and/or appealing you find either of them. The miscalculation is staggering on Smith's part.
So, in order to make it all better, he had to scrap everything and start from scratch. Unfortunately, you cannot teach an old dog new tricks, and Kevin Smith is an old, old dog. RED STATE starts with three horny teens, excited about the possibility of getting to bang Melissa Leo. I believe there are horny teens in the world, and I believe there are horny women out there who live in trailers and might want three teen boys to give her a gangbang to remember. But I do not believe that in the age of internet, smart phones, and To Catch A Predator that these 3 morons wouldn't at least be slightly worried about the crazy horny lady in the middle of the woods who wants to get a train run on her so bad she posts it on the internet. So, anyway, in defiance of logic, these horndogs drink the pre-sex beer she offers...which is of course drugged, and they are taken away to the 5 Points Church in Cooper's Dell.
Now, here's where Smith decides to take on religion (which he already did in DOGMA...a film so stupid I turned it off in the middle and wondered why I was still wasting my time on this guy...MALLRATS wasn't that funny), specifically Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church. You know...GOD HATES FAGS and all that noise. Kevin, didn't you get the memo? We're supposed to ignore these jerks, then maybe they'll go away. Smith's 5 Points Church is his version of the WBC, and his Phelps is Abin Cooper...played by the always incredible Michael Parks. I love Michael Parks, and to his credit he turns in an amazing performance. We first see Parks in a (I shit you not) 15 minute monologue/sermon that stops the middle of the movie cold. Yes, Parks is incredible, but this talking (you see the theme yet?) gets in the way of what Smith would like you to believe is his horror-action genre picture. And it happens throughout the 2nd half of the film...just this interminable talking, gabbing, diarrhea of words and crackpot stoner conspiracy theories. I wanted action, and I got a bunch of actors talking about all the amazing things that were happening JUST off camera. It's as if Smith was afraid of the action premise that he had set up for himself, and he decided to talk it away until the movie was finally done.
On with the show! The horny teens were brought to the church so they could be sacrificed to whatever evil God these freaks worship. See, Smith is just extrapolating what the WBC would LOVE to do...and that's murder a homosexual saran wrapped to a cross in front of a congregation of psychos. So that happens (as cheaply as possible...Smith made this movie for an estimated 4 million and I guess shooting a dude in the head was kind of expensive) and 2 of the horny teens make a break for it. So, and here's implausible thing number 37 (I won't list them all because you guys don't have time), one horny teen is running around the basement of this church. Every single door is locked EXCEPT for the door to their giant armory filled with AK-47s and MAC-10s. It's like Smith thought...well, we've got to get to the guns somehow. I know! I'll just make the one door that should be locked up tighter than a nun's pussy completely unlocked! Awesome! I'm so smart.
Great. So, through more convoluted movie "magic," the ATF is finally called in to take care of the shooting going on at the 5 Points. And here comes John Goodman. I love John Goodman here, playing the head of the local ATF field office. Goodman brings his A-game...stripping down his performance to nearly nothing more than a badass in a really tough situation. But, once again, he is completely hamstrung by Smith's ridiculous need to keep everyone in the film talking rather than doing anything. Goodman rises above the material, but it is a herculean effort. He seemed to be sweating from sheer force of will.
I could go on and on about how the end of the film completely screwed the one big chance to do something interesting with the last 10 minutes...and seriously, it's such a missed opportunity I considered turning off the film right there, but the only other thing on was CLERKS II. I could talk about how Smith couldn't pick a villain...is Cooper's 5 Points Church the embodiment of religious mania gone totally wrong, or are the government stooges of the ATF an example of the banality of evil? I guess I'll talk about a few positive things...Smith has learned a few new visual tricks which are nice little bits of editing and camera movement that shows that hey, even this guy can pick up a few things along the way. The acting from Parks, Leo, and Goodman is pretty stellar all around and they do make a compelling case for watching the film. Seeing pros in their element doing good work is always worth the time.
But, the problem lies in one person and one person only...Kevin Smith. Kevin, you may have embraced the new social media and Twitter, and good on you for that. You've got a huge fan base, plenty of money, and you've figured out how you will spend the rest of your life: talking about 1994. Because, even if you aren't talking about CLERKS...you're still talking about CLERKS. I suppose there are worse legacies, but I just can't think of any right now. I mean, I wasn't even supposed to be here today.
RED STATE: C (A+++ if you really love Kevin Smith)
-Eric Roach, Anderson Lawfer