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Christian Toto

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September 30, 2011 - 12:17 am
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Red State isn’t the political jeremiad its title portends…until it is.

Writer/director Kevin Smith’s latest film can’t decide what it wants to be — a bare-knuckled thriller, a conventional horror yarn, or a government conspiracy rant.

It’s all of the above, a genre mash-up without conviction, purpose, or clarity. It’s the least Kevin Smith-like film in the comedy director’s canon, but it still can’t reverse a downward spiral that appeared to bottom out with last year’s Cop Out.

And, if Red State is any indication, he shouldn’t consider a career as a political columnist anytime soon.

The film is set in a small town where a congregation in the Westboro Baptist Church mold pickets the funerals of gays and other “sinners.”

A local school teacher tries to explain why the town must let the  crazed churchgoers speak even if what they say is uniformly wicked. It‘s a free speech thing, but no one around agrees with what they‘re selling.

“Even ultra conservatives avoid this guy,” the teacher tells her class, a line which seems to nullify any potential religious critique Smith has in mind.

Three hormonal students have more important matters in mind than some morally bankrupt church. They’ve struck up a cyber-friendship with a 30-something woman and plan to meet her for a group sexual encounter. It’s a rushed, impractical excuse to set the story in motion, but audiences can forgive plenty if the payoff delivers.

The boys meet the mystery woman (Melissa Leo), who clearly looks older than her advertised age, but they’re too horny to quibble about that or the depressing trailer she calls home.

“The devil’s right in here,” Leo’s character purrs, handing them spiked beers to quaff before the orgy commences. The drugged boys wake up in a church where they’re about to be sacrificed by a maniacal preacher named Abin Cooper (Michael Parks).

“It’s gonna get grown-up in here,” Cooper says after a long-winded sermon, ushering the children out so that a Hostel-style slaughter can commence.

Red State reaches its zenith here, as Smith’s camera shakes and shudders to capture the fear felt by the stunned young men. And Parks, a relative unknown given a pretty big spotlight, is mesmerizing as a man who can make fire and brimstone sound downright charming.

“God doesn’t love you…unless you fear him,” Parks says.

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