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“Red State,” reviewed

“Red State,” reviewed (photo)

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For months now, Kevin Smith has seemed like an angry guy: angry at critics who didn’t care for his last movie; angry at distributors for their wasteful release strategies; (rightfully) angry at Southwest Airlines for unfairly kicking him off a plane. So even though it doesn’t look like something by the writer/director of “Clerks” and “Chasing Amy,” perhaps “Red State” shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. It is an angry film.

A lot of Smith’s movies have been motivated by malcontents, from Dante in “Clerks,” who’s not even supposed to be here today, to Ollie in “Jersey Girl,” who resents the fact that he lost a job and home he loved and can’t reclaim. “Red State” amplifies that low-level disgust into white-hot rage. It’s the only thing that unites all the disparate groups in this unusual little movie. Horny teens, religious zealots, ATF agents. All very, very angry.

We start with the teens, and a scenario as close to a standard Kevin Smith movie as “Red State” ever gets. Travis (Michael Angarano), Jared (Kyle Gallner), and Billy Ray (Nicholas Braun) are looking for some action and find an anonymous woman on the Internet willing to sleep with all three of them at the same time. Little do they realize the woman is Sarah (Melissa Leo), and she is luring them all into a trap set by her father, the ultra conservative pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks). As quickly as the plot settles into a teens-versus-their-virginity comedy, the film swerves on you; now it’s a religious-themed horror movie with Cooper’s church of followers and inbred family members looking to send the boys to hell as sinners and sodomites. Then as quickly as the religious-themed horror movie appears, it vanishes too, so that the final act can make room for a field unit of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms led by Agent Keenan (John Goodman) as he investigates the Cooper Church. That would be a lot of plot for a six-hour miniseries; if you subtract its credits, “Red State” runs barely 80 minutes. It’s as if Smith, who’s publicly declared his intentions to retire from directing after one last film about hockey, decided to get every other movie he’s ever wanted to make out of his system in one fell swoop.

That makes “Red State” a busy movie, but not a boring one. To the screenplay’s credit, the film is full of surprising swerves and twists. To its discredit, all those swerves and twists don’t leave much time for the characters, who are all basically just chess pieces or mouthpieces. Both Parks and Goodman deliver memorable, didactic monologues that impart messages of hate and frustration from either side of the red state/blue state divide. Both actors are good, and Parks is disturbingly seductive as the, if you’ll forgive the pun, God-awful preacher. Still, neither man gets enough screen time to become anything more than a reservoir of righteous indignation.

That’s why I’m sort of surprised Smith is so exclusively selling “Red State” to his base of loyal followers. Instead of spending tens of millions of dollars to market and distribute the film throughout the country, he’s released “Red State” on video on demand after a brief Oscar qualifying run in Los Angeles and an international speaking-and-screening tour. Though the reviews from Smith hardcores have, not surprisingly, been ecstatic, it seems to me they would be the group most inclined to dislike this movie. “Red State” doesn’t look like a Kevin Smith project (though it was shot by his longtime cinematopgraher, David Klein) and with little vulgarity or pop culture humor, it barely sounds like one too. It is, however, a briskly-paced, slightly torture porn-y horror thriller. Yet the reviews I’ve seen from outside the View Askew Universe have been surprisingly harsh; maybe because Smith himself was so harsh on critics for trashing “Cop Out.”

Despite all the hype surrounding its release, “Red State” is neither the masterpiece Smith’s partisans claim nor the bomb his detractors insist. Stripped of both sides’ sermonizing, what you are left with is a rough and tumble little thriller, light on character, heavy on story, loaded with twists. It’s a solid version of the sort of all killer, no filler B-movie that often goes straight to home video. Or video on demand.

“Red State” is available now on VOD. If you see it, we want to know what you think. Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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