By Charles Kirkland Jr.
A washed-up, down on his luck porn star returns to his home where he finds he really is not wanted in, Red Rocket.
As Mikey Saber (Simon Rex) limps back to his hometown in Texas with his tail between his legs, he already knows that he will not be welcomed. The hustler with a rapid-fire mouth and blatant disregard for anyone other than himself has burned many bridges including those with his wife Lexi (Bree Elrod) and her mother Lil (Brenda Deiss). But after incessant pleading, Mikey is reluctantly allowed to stay in their house until he gets himself back on his feet. Burned out and thrown out by the porn industry, Mikey is determined to get his life on a positive track and prove to his wife that he can be an asset again…until he meets a teenaged girl named Strawberry.
Red Rocket is directed by Sean Baker and co-written by Baker and Chris Bergoch. It stars ex-MTV VJ Simon Rex, along with Bree Elrod, Suzanna Son, and Brenda Deiss. This is Baker’s first follow-up to the acclaimed movie The Florida Project in 2017.
Like The Florida Project, Baker seems to excel as shining a light on the underbelly of American culture. In Red Rocket, he exposes the trashier side of low country Texas with a sad, social commentary on what it takes to escape that world, either selling drugs or becoming a porn star.
Simon Rex gobbles up the screen playing the slick, repulsively disgusting, porn star hustler who cons his way through everyone in the film. Rex’s character is hate-worthy and yet at the same time laughably ridiculous but his performance is not. It is amazing how he holds onto the manic electricity that fuels Mikey throughout the entire movie and how willing he is to leave everything he has on the screen. If the character were not so vile and manipulative, Rex could easily be receiving award considerations. He may still receive that recognition.
Herein lies the rub. This material is so dark and ugly at times, it is hard to watch. Baker does a great job of creating the uncomfortable atmosphere of the film from almost scene one and completely inundates you with the extremely adult themes of the film until the viewer almost surrenders to the magnetic personality of Mikey. Yet in the back of their minds, they know that they cannot root for him. So when the final climax of the film arrives and Mikey faces the consequences of his actions, the audience gets caught in a weird predicament of not being happy or sad by the total outcome.
While this film has won a number of awards as it has gone from festival to festival, this movie is not for everybody. There are a number of strong themes from drug use and distribution to sexual exploitation and human trafficking that make the film uncomfortable for even the strongest of stomachs. However, this is the purpose of the film. Baker does an excellent job of creating a film-going experience that is emotionally charged, even if those emotions are anger and disgust.
Rated R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use, and pervasive language, Red Rocket is an intentionally, intensely, negative experience. Even though Baker seems to successfully achieve the goal of his creation, this does not make it a good movie. Because the themes of the movie are so despicable, it seems inappropriate to justify, codify or glorify them through any kind of depiction much less this film. But Baker has created a surprisingly entertaining and unforgettable film and maybe created a movie star in Simon Rex.
Red Rocket is in theaters.