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Red State

Dir/scr: Kevin Smith. US. 2011. 96mins

Seventeen years after his Sundance debut Clerks, Kevin Smith’s 10th feature film is a wild mish-mash of genres, from teenage romp to torture-horror to hostage-siege action thriller. While the assorted shifts in tone and unpredictable twists will keep viewers on the edge of their seats, Red State is so off-the-map that it doesn’t cohere as a whole.

While Smith fills the movie with some brief moments of genuine horror, violent action, and suspense, what he’s really after is revealed in the film’s dialogue-heavy unsubtle conclusion.

But the film’s inconsistencies likely won’t disappoint the writer-director-performer’s fans; based on Smith’s built-in network and his talent for self-promotion, the movie should draw plenty of his followers when he self-distributes the film in the U.S. later this year. Whether Red State can travel overseas, however, where Smith is less of a commodity is another matter.

Set in a fly-over state somewhere in America, the film opens on a group of extreme right-wing zealots protesting the death of a young homosexual (a reference to a real-life fringe religious group that picketed at Matthew Shephard’s funeral in 1998, among others). The sect, it turns out, has its base nearby, much to the chagrin of the locals.

Smith introduces us to three of those residents, a trio of horny high school boys, who plan to meet a local woman later that night for a raunchy sexual rendezvous. When they eventually arrive at the woman’s trailer, it quickly becomes apparent that the lady (Melissa Leo) has set up a trap for the unsuspecting youths.

What follows is difficult to recount without giving away the movie’s surprises, but suffice to say that Smith is after two big targets: conservative religion and inept government.

Initially, the movie’s driving narrative involves the boys’ capture by the religious group and their subsequent escape attempts. But then the momentum stalls completely, as Smith gives too much screen-time to the rantings of a wild-man preacher (Michael Parks), sermonising about the evils of homosexuals and a wrathful God. It’s as if Smith doesn’t want any singular character or storyline to take hold.

Then comes John Goodman’s ATF agent, called in to investigate and then attack the religious compound. Echoes of the infamous 1993 Waco showdown abound. An all-out fire-fight erupts between government agents and machine-gun toting evangelicals, and then, Smith makes one final doozey of a twist with apocalyptic relish.

While Smith fills the movie with some brief moments of genuine horror, violent action, and suspense, what he’s really after is revealed in the film’s dialogue-heavy unsubtle conclusion. Smith has always preferred dialogue to narrative, and Red State is no different.

And while Smith is not a director known for his visuals, production values are surprisingly polished, with the action-packed siege sequences likely absorbing most of the film’s $4 million budget.

Production company: The Harvey Boys

International sales: Cinetic Media, www.cineticmedia.com

Producer: Jonathan Gordon

Executive producers: Elyse Seined, Jason Clark, Nhaelan McMillan, Victor Choy

Cinematography: Dave Klein

Production designer: Cabot McMullen

Editor: Kevin Smith

Main cast: Michael Angarano, Kerry Bishe, Nicholas Braun, Kyle Gallner, John Goodman, Melissa Leo, Michael Parks, Kevin Pollak, Stephen Root

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