Let’s get this out of the way: I am not a Kevin Smith fan. He has always seemed more interested in hiring actors to recite his own self-consciously profane monologues than in creating living, breathing characters, and the results are reliably tedious.
For the most part, though, Red State avoids Smith’s usual pitfalls and just lets Michael Parks work his villainous magic. Parks plays a fringe fundamentalist Christian preacher in the mold of Fred Phelps who leads a congregation with a divine calling to punish the wicked. Things get sticky when the group’s abduction of some local teens goes awry, and what begins as a fairly taut horror premise eventually becomes a mannered action thriller. Alas, by the time the climax arrives, it’s pretty clear Smith doesn’t know how to resolve it, and thus, what had for a moment promised to be a rewarding film unravels quickly. After eighty minutes of frothy biblical hatred in a truly inspired performance from Parks, Smith can’t wait to get back to his own voice and do some ham-fisted proselytizing of his own. The ensuing epilogue – some hokey narrative fast-forward mixed with a bizarre bit of Patriot Act propaganda – seems to be constructed for the sake of anyone who wasn’t able to hear Smith explain himself in plain language at a post-screening Q&A. It’s an unforgivably cheap finish that ultimately ruins the whole experience.