Like its main character, Red State is both flawed and intensely watchable. Much has been made about Kevin Smith's change in genre for this film, but in Michael Parks’ Abin Cooper, he finds the ultimate blowhard; like Randal Graves and Brodie Bruce before him, the preacher speaks with a fiery and confident determination, using volume and tone of voice to pave over gaps in logic. His bigotry and real power may set him apart from Smith’s normal hapless cocksuckers, but he’s still just as well-written and mesmerizing. And despite all its problems, Red State is captivating and wonderful, a hybrid of well-spun bullshit and down home creepiness.
Kevin Smith characters, whether selling weed outside the Quick Stop or quoting Hebrews, have their own point of view-- it's the filmmaker’s primary skill, and ultimately, the reason why Red State works. His characters exist in the margins and speak in jarring, yet familiar rhetoric. Their conversations aren’t a way to pass the time but time that couldn’t be spent any better way. So while Red State may occasionally add too much levity into scenes better played straight or remind the audience of the time for no apparent reason, those technical glitches don’t change the fact that I still want to hear what the characters have to say.
Pastor Abin Cooper has a message. From a long line of hell, fire and brimstone preachers, he leads his twenty-odd member flock with the conviction of a man who knows he’s right. That the rest of the world disagrees is of little consequence. Armed with anti-gay signs, his Five Points Church casts a shadow of bad publicity and fervent hate over the funerals of deceased homosexuals, at first befuddling and later almost amusing the local townsfolk, some of whom get a kick out of the media coverage. Jared (Kyle Gallner) has lived beneath that bigoted cloud for years, but he’s more concerned with getting laid than fighting the local kooks. He’s been corresponding with a local woman for weeks about meeting up for a sexual rendezvous. She wants three men to make her fantasy happen. Luckily for Jared, he has friends.
Travis (Michael Angarano) is a bit skeptical about the four way, but the moronic Billy Ray (Nicholas Braun) has enough enthusiasm for them both. He will make this happen, even if that means ignoring a few bad signs along the way. The first of those let’s-think-twice-moments comes when Travis’ car mistakenly clips another vehicle. The damaged car with the broken taillight belongs to the local sheriff (Stephen Root). He was cheating on his wife with an unidentified man, but he’ll be damned if some punk kids are going to hit and run his vehicle. He puts his deputy on the case right around the time the three horny boys find themselves outside a rundown trailer.
The woman (Melissa Leo) who placed the ad Jared responded to might be a bit plain and perhaps older than they’d have hoped for, but they’re hardly in a position to complain. They’re so gung-ho, in fact, that they ignore the lady’s suspicious behavior as she forces beer on them and shows little interest in fornication. Within minutes, they’re collapsed in a heap on the ground. Only later when the trio find themselves at Five Points Church does the extent of their hormone-induced fuck-up become clear. The aging woman was Pastor Cooper’s daughter, and their wicked lusts and unseemly desires are to be made an example of. Jesus may save, but their God is more interested in retribution.
What follows is a mad dash of zealotry and frenzied escape plots, buoyed and beset by a spotting of the hit-and-run car, Keystone Cops, inter-sect politics, self-centered traitors and the ATF, led by a thin and well-used John Goodman. Part thriller and part unsettling cult movie, Red State’s second half meshes genres , both keeping pace and its eerie undertones fairly well, while allowing for the occasional piece of Kevin Smith snark. It’s not as scary as your typical horror movie, as fast-paced as your average shoot ‘em up or as funny as Kevin Smith’s byline might promise, but the film never really tries to fit comfortably within any of those genres. It’s a hodge-podge, and that’s the way it seems to like it.
For the most part, I feel the same way. The editing is sometimes is a bit clumsy with unnecessary jump ahead shots. The action never quite feels as desperate as it could have with a slightly altered change in the sequence of events, but movies aren’t measured like math tests and criminal histories. The more you do right, the less the wrong matters. Red State may have its problems, but I still had a damn good time watching it overcome them.