Think Fred Phelps meets the Waco standoff by way of a “Hostel” flick.
The movie is several things at once, some elements more successful than others. But for all of its borderline naive satire and paranoia it cannot be easily dismissed, if only because Smith is working here with some very talented actors who elevate the material into something quite watchable.
It starts out as a teen comedy. Three sex-starved high schoolers (Michael Angarano, Nicholas Braun, Ronnie Connell) find on the Internet a MILF willing to take them all on.
They make a date, drive out to a mobile home in the country where they’re met by their hostess (Oscar winner Melissa Leo, no less) who serves them spiked drinks.
Next thing they know the boys are prisoners of a religious cult led by the ultra right wing Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), a preacher infamous for his anti-gay rants and for sending his small congregation (mostly blood relatives and in-laws) out to picket the funerals of unbelievers.
Clearly Cooper and clan are exaggerated versions of Topeka’s Fred “God hates fags” Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church. But the movie crazies are far worse than Phelps’ bunch…they kidnap, torture and murder gays and lustful teens and have a small arsenal of military grade weapons in their remote compound.
About halfway into “Red State” a world-weary, seen-it-all ATF agent (John Goodman, excellent) leads his men to surround Cooper’s compound, resulting in a bloodbath that suggests if the religious nuts are bad, a cynical “kill them all” federal bureaucracy isn’t much better.
“Red State” is hyperbolic to the max, but frequently rings true. Parks’ perf as the charismatic preacher is genuinely disturbing…clearly, Smith has studied his demagogues and has nailed the theological and emotional essences of radical religious figures.
Parks could easily have turned this into an eye-rolling caricature, but his Abin Cooper is too smart for that. He’s capable of some fiery rhetoric, sure, not to mention murder…but his delivery is surprisingly laconic, that of a man so assured of his own salvation that he can afford to seem magnanimous. Very gnarly.
Somewhat less persuasive are the performances of Leo and the other congregants, who are portrayed simply as Kool-Aid consuming fanatics. The one exception is Kerry Bishe as one of Cooper’s granddaughters, who at least has the moral sense to try to save the compound’s children from the inevitable assault.
| Robert W. Butler