Three teenage boys are lured into the clutches of Abin Cooper (Parks), a fundamentalist preacher who kidnaps and executes "sexual deviants". Realising something is wrong inside Cooper's heavily armed church, the Sheriff calls in Joe Keenan (Goodman), a veteran ATF agent.
In his previous career, Kevin Smith essentially stuck to a genre of his own invention: slacker rom-com with pop-culture footnotes and gross-out elements. He might well be aggrieved that a whole generation of bigger-budget Hollywood star vehicles (Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Hangover etc.) repeat Smith schtick and connect with wider audiences beyond his devoted indie following. After the compromised studio project Cop Out, he has gone handmade and personal again, but here sets out to make something like a genre film — though it’s hard to pin down exactly what genre Red State is.
Smith labels it a horror movie, and the first act has overtones of the kids-captured-by-torture-cult cycle of Hostel. However, he hasn’t got the patience to build suspense or even stick with his original set of mixed-up kid characters, three horny guys lured by an internet siren (a somewhat wasted Melissa Leo) who promises three-way sex but delivers them into cages before an ecstatically demented congregation. After attempted escapes and some splatter deaths, it then shifts into a siege/shoot-out movie starring John Goodman as the exasperated agent nagged on all sides to bring about a bloodbath before delivering editorial speeches about the sorry state of America and paying off with crass buggery jokes. For a film supposedly anti-anti-gay prejudice, it’s full of that Smithian blend of homoeroticism-tinged-with-homophobia that’s weirdly commonplace in Yank guy culture. After ten rambling, anecdotal films, Smith the writer hasn’t quite learned how to tell a story — he writes speeches that work like sermons or stand-up turns, but doesn’t know how to do exposition.
Red State is about interesting undercurrents in contemporary American society — it’s plainly inspired by the antics of the ‘God Hates Fags’ brand of lunatic Christianity and the conduct of the Bureau Of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms And Explosives in the Waco siege of an American extremist cult. Michael Parks is outstanding as a plausible baddie who is at once dedicated to executing gays for Jesus — though, note, the main kids are straight, and murdered gay characters don’t register — and a Rapture-awaiting apocalyptic gun nut. Goodman can sell pretty much anything, and wearily handles disillusionment with the disaster-waiting-to-happen that is a multi-agency siege of a heavily armed church compound with a full complement of semi-innocent women and kids among the die-hard maniacs.
This is one of those movies that's interesting" rather than "good". Smith has so much solid material to deliver that it's a shame the package is so sloppily wrapped.