Simon Rex in Red Rocket (A24) Sean Baker’s trash, vaudeville, and soft-core politics
At the beginning of Texasville, Jeff Bridges’s middle-aged entrepreneur character Duane slumps in his backyard swimming pool and points a gun at his groin. “I’m thinking about shooting my pecker,” he drawls. “It’s done nothing but get me in trouble all my life.”
In Red Rocket, Simon Rex plays Mikey Saber, a past-prime Lone State stud who doesn’t realize he’s headed toward Duane’s regret. That’s because director-writer Sean Baker conceived Mikey solely in terms of his lower region. The film’s rude title doesn’t just equate Mikey to a thing but specifically to a dog’s inflamed member. Pointless arousal and mischievous abuse describe Baker’s comic cosmic vision.
Baker’s outlaw cinema specializes in special-interest groups: the transgender, welfare-state, sex-worker “communities” that are the object of pandering progressives and the darlings of liberal media. He brings such undeniable energy and humor to his lowlife tales — Tangerine, The Florida Project, and now Red Rocket — that it’s easy to think he likes his subjects. After all, they’re portrayed not as America’s “deplorables” but its “underserved” — the folks that politicians praise as examples of diversity, about whom liberal Hollywood feels pity and superiority.
Red Rocket would seem dehumanizing and despicable if not for Rex’s three-dimensional portrait of Mikey’s outlawry; flaunting head-banger’s stupidity, misused charm, and misguided talents to full effect.
A victim of his redneck origins — thus his fate, Baker implies — Mikey returns to his hometown from the West Coast following a jail stint and curtailed porn stardom. While scheming a career comeback, he first sponges off the ex-wife Lexi (Bree Elrod) whom he dutifully bonks after popping a “magic blue pill,” his toothless ex-mother-in-law Lil (Brenda Daiss), and a neighbor Lonnie (Ethan Darbone) as luckless as himself but not handsome. Mikey latches onto an easily corruptible 17-year-old donut-shop waitress Strawberry (Suzanna Son) as if reliving his own lapsed innocence. His aim to make her the next porn nymphet (and meal ticket) taints this character study. (Mikey’s flirty lewdness with Strawberry ignores the inevitable
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