Kevin Smith’s “Red State” is finally moving from its fan-boy-style release — on digital platforms and special events — to a semi-conventional theatrical release this weekend, appearing in actual movie theaters on Sunday. The film’s unique release strategy has been documented elsewhere, but what about the film itself? Will regular old art-house moviegoers and those with a passing interest in the film’s anti-government, anti-evangelical subject matter actually pay $7-$12 to seek out the film?
When I saw the movie at its Sundance premiere in January, I reviewed it for Screen Daily, calling it “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,” I wrote, “‘Red State’ is so off-the-map that it doesn’t cohere as a whole.”
As social and political critique, Smith is never lacking in subtlety, with two big targets: conservative religion and inept government authority figures, from a wild-man preacher (Michael Parks), sermonizing about the evils of homosexuals and a wrathful God to John Goodman’s ATF agent whose team leads a Waco-like showdown and totally botches the job.
I will admit that Smith makes one final apocalyptic doozey of a switch that definitely had me guessing–it’s a near-brilliant moment of subversive narrative strategy that shows Smith is a screenwriter with plenty of tricks up his sleeve. I also feel like Smith should be given credit for trying to engage with the politics of the moment. You can criticize his method, of course, but there are few filmmakers with more to say–and who say it in long tirades–than Kevin Smith.