I hate you, Kevin Smith. I’ve hated you ever since Dogma. While I didn’t hate Dogma initially (the movie caught me at a particularly weird time wherein I was just awakening to my lifelong, yet at that point latent, atheism and the movie’s freewheeling religious message left me feeling uplifted and secure in a tepid belief in god), in retrospect I think the movie was a cop out, an attempt to please both believer and unbeliever alike. Conversely, Red State, Smith’s latest and hopefully last film, failed for the opposite reason.

After a string of disappointing releases and humiliating personal incidents, Smith went serious with Red State, a movie I avoided on general principle until seeing a trailer on cable. It gave the impression of being a solid little horror film, with a decent skewering of those reprehensible Westboro Baptist assholes, so I decided I’d shell out ten bucks to see it.

There were few highlights. Michael Parks took what was essentially a caricature of Fred Phelps (who is a bit of a caricature himself) and imbued it with nuance, but that’s what great actors are supposed to do. Nicholas Braun’s majestic mullet/rat tail combo should be in the white trash hairdo hall of fame. The cult scenes were pretty realistic. But that was about it.

The movie starts out strong; three high school age hicks decide to lose their virginity with a woman they find on some craigslist-like website, only to discover the ad was a ploy enacted by a notorious family/cult operating in a compound nearby, with the intention of punishing all and sundry sinners. The film spectacularly derails with the introduction of the ATF, who are sent to the compound after an investigating deputy is shot by the leader of the cult.

Here Smith decides to double down on the message and introduce a critique of the government’s handling of the Waco debacle, except it never really gets off the ground. Smith spends a good deal of time humanizing the abhorrent cult, yet the ATF officers are one note as ever. In addition, they change motivation at breakneck speed. The moral core of the group, the only officer who protests the decision to kill everyone inside the compound, even though there are a good deal of women and children present, is the same guy who guns down two innocent escapees after the fire fight ensues.

The plot meanders on aimlessly, bullets zipping past agents’ heads standing in for tension, the fuck-addled cult members firing on the agents from inside the compound are played for comic relief. Then something truly bizarre happens. I won’t give it away, but the phrase ‘deus ex machina’ immediately sprang to mind, so much so that I think Smith had to include this last, bizarre plot point as a nod to a classic story telling gaffe.

Afterward everything is explained, except by that point you don’t give a shit. I checked out when the last main character was killed off, not because I think that is anathema to a good story, because I don’t at all. Hell, I wish more main characters were killed off in movies. I checked out mentally because there was no discernable point of view. Cults are bad, but the government is worse. Religion is bad, but belief is good, sometimes. No one is entirely good or bad (except people who work for the government, they’re all assholes, apparently). The social group most derided by these sorts of cults, i.e. gays, are included in the movie only for a cheap laugh and to ferry the wayward plot along.

Smith had a tight and compelling movie when the narrative dealt chiefly with the cult members’ warped view of society. He touches on a genuine and confounding problem; mainly, how to reconcile free speech with the most disgusting, medieval rhetoric imaginable. There is a great point to be made about the downside of all religious fanaticism, obviously a hot button issue. But he blows it with the government critique, which really isn’t a critique at all, just a down and dirty way of rounding out the plot. Smith’s greatest strength is the dialogue and character construction. His greatest weakness is plot development. This plot is like a man being quartered by horses; it takes off in several different directions until the whole thing erupts into a mist of blood and tissue.

So, Mr. Smith, from a girl who adored Clerks, who wanted nothing more in her late teens and early twenties to make a movie as subtle and clever and irreverent as it was, I am respectfully requesting that I please have my money back.

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STACIE ADAMS is a drinker with a writing problem. She's currently working on a novel and hopes to complete it before the world ends in 2012. When she's not reading or writing she's at the bar telling people about the time she saw Queens of the Stone Age in a fortress in Germany. Her alter ego can be found at The First Church of mutterhals

12 responses to “An Open Letter to Kevin Smith”

  1. James D. Irwin says:

    For a very brief period I loved Kevin Smith, but most of his films have proven— at least to me— to be as disposable as the disposable pop culture that is central to most of dialogue in his films.

    It works in the early films. Dogma is a strange one. It is funny for the most part, and it has Alan Rickman in it for crying out loud. I even sort of like the religious message Smith gets out. But watching it recently it struck me as actually being a little too preachy, and not very subtly delivered. Really that’s the point where Smith began to decline— five years after Clerks, and it wouldn’t be unfair to say he was starting to get too old for his own demographic.

    But the thing is, I think he knows it. Didn’t he say something about retiring from directing and focusing on podcasts and live shows? It’s a good move. I went to one of his shows in London, and it was a lovely evening. The man talked for a good three hours and he was never anything less than charming, entertaining, and interesting. Everything his films have lacked in recent years.

    • I also loved Kevin Smith for a period. While I was in university I had all his movies. Clerks was great, Chasing Amy too , Mallrats was funny… Jay and Silent Bob, I convinced myself was an acquired taste. I told myself I liked it.

      After a few good mockings, I went back and actually watched his stuff again. Yeah, Clerks was still great, but the rest were a bit more painful. Chasing Amy is definitely funny but again, forced. I began asking myself, “Does anyone anywhere speak like these people do?” Yeah… Maybe… but only after watching the movies.

      I still enjoy Dogma because at heart I’m an asshole atheist and I enjoy seeing religion being fucked with.

      Somewhere along the line, though, he went from being okay to like if you’re young and care about stuff… to just shit. This new movie is something I will definitely not be watching.

    • SAA says:

      I watched Cop Out on a plane, I think, and I was appalled at the dialogue. It was like he just picked out popular internet memes and called it a day. Worse still the movie was unfunny as shit, even with Tracey Morgan, who can usually make me laugh by just standing there.

      • James D. Irwin says:

        I’m not 100% sure, but I believe Cop Out was the first time Smith directed a film he didn’t write.

        • SAA says:

          You’re right, I just looked it up on Imdb. It totally had the hallmark of a Kevin Smith screenplay, with all the tangential asides and what not. I know to steer clear of anything the Cullens are involved with from now on.

  2. Greg Olear says:

    Here is what a good friend of mine saw after seeing Dogma: “Just because you wrote it in college doesn’t mean it should look like you wrote it in college.”

    That said, the “Star Wars is racist” monologue from Chasing Amy is one of the funniest scenes of all time ever.

    • SAA says:

      Did you know that Chasing Amy is based on the girl who wrote the screenplay for American Psycho, Guinevere Turner? Also, Michael Parks was a pallbearer at Lenny Bruce’s funeral. I am a font of useless movie trivia.

  3. Matt says:

    In an epiphanic moment, I realized recently that I am over all things Kevin Smith. And I used to be a HUGE fan.

    Not sure what did it. Probably a combination of things: the declining quality of his films (the last one I saw was Zack & Miri, and hoo boy was it shit), the anti-art critic polemics he’s been going on lately, his terrible forays into comic book writing. Creatively, I think he peaked with Chasing Amy; Dogma is enjoyable but suffers from a perpetual “something just happened now let’s stop and talk about it” story progression.

    I even really enjoyed his SModcast for a while there, but after a couple of years, found it to just be a little too much, especially when it started making the transition to a mini-internet radio empire. Somewhere along the lines I just hit a point of Smith super-saturation, I guess.

    The Westboro Baptist assholes certainly deserve a scewering, but I don’t think Smith is the guy for it. Hell, the Phelps do a pretty good job of demonstrating their evil on their own; I’m sure a viewing of the documentary Fall From Grace would be more poignant than watching Red State. So I’ll pass, thanks.

  4. argo rigolo says:

    I like Dogma for its irrelevant irreverent humor.I watched it three-times and it was funny all-the-way-through.
    Especially , who?????–Garbriel, \cris Rock, God in NJ at the pier? The devils skateboarders? All good fun.

  5. Matt – I think you simply grew up!

  6. Update 2014 says:

    So now the loser is using his connections to Ben Affleck to score some cheap attention on the internet, pretending to leak spoilers to the next Batman movie. What makes it truly pathetic is the hive mind of comic book fanboys who are pretty much incapable of realizing what they thought was wickedly awesome when they were 15 is actually crud.

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