RED ROCKET (2021)
Starring Simon Rex, Bree Elrod, Suzanna Son, Brenda Deiss, Ethan Darbone, Judy Hill, Brittany Rodriguez, Sam EidsonVicky, Brandon Lott, Marlon Lambert, Shih-Ching Tsou, Lindsey Fuller, Parker Bigham, Najeeb Hassan, Elisa Silva, Sam QuanNico, Brandy Kirl, Dustin “Hitman” Hart, Gary Fuller and David Maxwell.
Screenplay by Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch.
Directed by Sean Baker.
Distributed by A24. 128 minutes. Rated R.
The poster and trailer of Sean Baker’s latest film Red Rocket suggests a light comic farce – and for a certain amount of time it sort of is that. Eventually, though, the film takes a sharp right turn (figuratively as well as literally), and things spin out into some much darker directions.
I’m not sure that was a wise narrative choice, but it is what it is. Red Rocket ends up being a much different film than we originally expect.
Its par for the course for director Baker, whose low-budget examinations of the hard lives of society’s misfits (Tangerine and The Florida Project) have always juggled light humor with heavy drama.
The film follows the adventures of Mikey (well played by Simon Rex, who obviously understands this character), a 40-ish former porn “star” who has to return to his Texas hometown with his tail between his legs and mooch off of his ex-wife and former co-star (Bree Elrod) for a place to stay and for sex. He sells drugs locally and tells everyone about his adventures in the porn world, always looking for his next score.
Rex, who also traded in a background in pornography for a short-lived legit celebrity in the 1990s, grabs hold of this character as a comeback vehicle. Mikey is a pretty reprehensible guy – cowardly, scheming, immature, corrupt, a braggart – but he’s also undeniably charming. You can tell that this guy has been thinking on his feet and scamming to live for as long as he’s been alive. Now he has a survival instinct that is finely tuned – he will do anything for his own benefit, no matter who he hurts in the process.
His latest scheme comes from meeting a young girl at the local donut shop with the porn-ready nickname of Strawberry (played by first time actor Susanna Son). Strawberry is way too young for him, very pretty in a girl-next-door way but a lot more adventurous than you’d originally think and bored with life in her small town.
Mikey, who had become semi-famous as much due to his ex as his own work, sees Strawberry as his ticket back into the porn business. He just has to keep a lot of balls in the air while trying to convince her to go to California with him and work in porn, and also trying to make enough money so that he can go. This leads to conflicts with his ex (and her mother), the local drug dealers, Strawberry’s “boyfriend” and the local cops.
Throughout the film, you know you can’t really believe a word that Mikey says, but you can’t help but admire his ability to lie constantly, no matter how obvious that lie may be.
There is an intriguing political undertow to Red Rocket, which takes place during the leadup to the 2016 Presidential elections between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Red Rocket is too savvy to spell it out – or even have its characters comment on what is going on around them – and yet the election keeps popping up in the background, subtly commenting on the setting, the action, and mostly on the main character.
Mikey is an aging former small-time celebrity who uses charm, deceit, machismo and trickery to get what he wants, isn’t afraid to break the law, uses women and always puts his own needs before anyone else. Remind you of a certain former president? Even though Red Rocket is intentionally vague on Mikey’s political leanings (if he even has any, which chances are he does not, really), it seems like Donald Trump may well be his spirit animal.
As I mentioned above, things are going well enough through most of Red Rocket. It’s a charming and sweet look at a desperate con artist who seems to be deluding himself as much as he is his marks. Then suddenly about three quarters of the way through the film something happens – I won’t say what for spoiler’s sake, but you’ll know as soon as you see it – which turns this black-ish comedy into something much darker, and frankly something harder to enjoy.
Despite the sudden change in course, Red Rocket is a smart, funny and unique movie. And, if nothing else, hopefully it will reignite interest in Simon Rex’ acting career, because he is brave and pretty flawless in this role.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2021 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: December 9, 2021.