I have just seen two films recently which, in a strange coincidence, both feature John Goodman and Melissa Leo (who played a couple in Treme) in separate storylines for which they share no scenes. And both films start in one genre, suggest a certain layer of complexity which is never fulfilled, and then make a sharp 90-degree veer in a different direction, one with more success than the other.
|Michael Parks and John Goodman talk theology.|
To Kevin Smith's credit, he started off with a cardboard political agenda which he is simply too good a writer to adhere to and -- perhaps unconsciously -- realizing that when he got there there was no there there, took off not so much for another target, but in favor of character over ideology. He wanted to make fun of extremist evangelists, but he seems to have been distracted by the idea of some poor working stiff in the ATF having to sort out a potential Waco-type mess he wants no part of without it blowing up in his and everybody else's face. It's this sort of thing that leads me to wonder if Kevin Smith ever writes second drafts, or whether -- given that it takes him years to get the energy to crank out a script -- he is satisfied with just getting something down on the page, then immediately dials up his production manager and starts perusing the craft services menu. (Yes, I know that he raised the financing and distributed the film himself, so the process was a bit more complicated, but...)
Nonetheless, once you get past the tedious set up of the premise of the movie, with a long, redundant monologue by Michael Parks, the film centers around the always-satisfying John Goodman as a man in the middle, squeezed between doing the right thing and toeing the line with his superiors. This is first-rate satire, but it lacks the time and scope to have enough weight to anchor the entire film. Then Smith tosses in an anti-climax in which what sounds like The Rapture turns out to be some hippies teasing the evangelicals. I say "tossed in" because what could have been an intriguing and funny scene is conveyed by some dialogue in a brief denouement scene. (Plus Smith admitted it was added after the fact in his video Q&A, Kevin Smith: Burn in Hell.) The result feels like an anthology of different films from different genres stitched together sequentially. I don't know how Red State performed commercially, but I can't help but think that there must have been a LOT of disappointed horror fans.
|Denzel got some explainin' to do.|
It would seem that would have been fairly easy to make a much better, much more original film. And how disappointing that Denzel finally breaks away from the tedious potboilers he has given so much of his working life to (Safe House, Unstoppable, Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Inside Man), the result is still deja vu, just in a more exalted genre.