October 28, 2011

Justify My Netflix: Red State

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

Red State

Today's movie: Red State, 2011 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because this is the infamous latest by Kevin Smith, which like many of his flicks has a complicated backstory almost as fascinating as the movie itself: a "horror" film about a Fred-Phelps-style wacko-conservative church, only taken to more cartoonishly violent extremes than real life (this church not only pickets gay funerals and the like, but literally kidnaps horny teens then slaughters them while they're tied to a giant crucifix), Smith tried and failed for years to get this produced through a traditional studio, eventually raising the money himself; then in a brilliant move that has already started changing even the fundamental question of how underground filmmakers go about their business, Smith decided to distribute the movie himself too, spending literally not a single penny of money on advertising but rather heavily promoting it through comprehensive live appearances tied to a national screening tour at independent houses, backed up by the massive reach of his various podcasts (which together have an audience now literally the size of certain network television shows), easily recouping his four-million-dollar budget long before the film even started the wide cross-platform release it's now enjoying.

The reality: So okay, after a year now of obsessively following along with every detail of this film's production, through the various incarnations of Smith's SModcast Network (of which I'm an obsessive fan, let's be clear), I finally had a chance this week to see how the final product actually turned out. And what's the verdict? Oh...meh! In fact, this is always the problem with Kevin Smith's films, and why it's so difficult sometimes to be a truly dyed-in-the-wool fan of his; for although this is certainly both the most action-packed and the visually best-looking film of his career, it is still way too overly talky, badly paced in several sections, and now with Smith's trademarked foul-mouth man-child dialogue coming from ridiculously inappropriate characters and situations at points, for example like the cringe-inducing final investigation hearing at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that ends the movie, where we literally watch suited, middle-aged corporate executives talk exactly like the twentysomething slacker heroes of Smith's first and still most notorious film, Clerks. And that's a shame, because in many other respects this is actually a great leap forward for Smith, a newfound dedication to visual competence and the three-act structure that works really well for him, and that lets him commendably break out of that "aw shucks" gentle-humor box in which he's largely placed himself over the course of his career.

In fact, all through watching this, I kept thinking of something that Smith has mentioned on his podcast several times now: how back before he did a podcast, anytime he wanted to tell a story, he would have to gather a big pile of people and money, sit and actually make a movie, then wait for it to come out, but that now that he does have a podcast, all he has to do is sit in front of a microphone and tape recorder and simply tell you the story. And that's Smith as an artist in a nutshell, and why his film career seems always to be fated to be plagued; because in his eyes, there's literally no difference between watching a movie and just having someone describe it to you, which says more about what's wrong with his films than a thousand snotty critical essays ever could. I mean, that's why people like me are such big fans of his to begin with, because what he has to say is always very entertaining and delivered in what's always a naturally masterful way; but that's the same exact thing that makes it so difficult to be anything more than just a casual fan of his movies, and why the ten-page monologues that he always thinks is brilliant always turn out to be so tedious when actually watched. Certainly I'm glad that Smith is recognizing this more and more himself as he gets older, and that he is shifting more and more in his life to just full-time gabbing and raconteuring as his primary form of creativity (for those who don't know, Smith recently announced that his next film, the hockey drama Hit Somebody, will be his last, a declaration that may or may not turn out to be true); but that doesn't make Red State any less frustrating, a noble effort that's at least worth your time (and a must-see for traditional slasher fans*) but wasn't nearly as good as I wanted it to be. This should all be kept in mind before renting it yourself.

Strangest piece of trivia: Not a single soundtrack song appears during this movie, other than songs literally sang by characters within the context of the story itself.

Worth your time? Somewhat

*And speaking of which, IT IS ABSOLUTELY AMAZING what Smith does here with a $5,000 special-effects budget, which may turn out to be this film's actual biggest lasting legacy to the next generation of indie filmmakers, apart from distribution conversations; that with a group of smart, talented, dedicated people, and using all the latest digital technology in cinema, you can make a five-thousand-dollar effects budget look like five million.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 12:07 PM, October 28, 2011. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |