Review: Set in the summer of 2016 a few months before the bad-tempered and divisive US presidential race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, Red Rocket is a freewheeling comedy drama, which charts the awkward return of an adult entertainment film star to his no-nonsense Texas City roots. Writer-director Sean Baker has a keen eye for the minutiae of everyday life on the fringes of American society, evidenced by his award-winning films Tangerine and The Florida Project, which deservedly earnt actor Willem Dafoe an Oscar nomination.
Working from a script co-written by Chris Bergoch, Baker immerses us again in sweat-sodden tableaux of enterprise and ingenuity in the face of financial hardship, anchored by a scintillating lead performance from Simon Rex. He is irresistible as the chatterbox opportunist with an x-rated past, who doesn’t always engage a brain full of get-rich-quick schemes before he opens his mouth and contradicts his impressive resume of 2,000 film credits and six AVNs (“It’s like the Academy Awards for what I do”). Rex’s energy and crude charm are infectious, papering over cracks in a pedestrian plot that unnecessarily exceeds two hours and sags noticeably before the central character chokes on just deserts.
After more than 17 years biting the hand that feeds him in Los Angeles, washed-up porn actor Mikey “Saber” Davies (Rex) returns to his hometown, breaking a promise to never “step foot in Texas again”. He crash-lands on the doorstep of estranged wife Lexi (Bree Elrod) and mother-in-law Lil (Brenda Deiss) and pleads loudly to sleep on their sofa until he can get back on his feet. Lil foolishly agrees on the proviso that Mikey contributes at least 200 dollars a month in rent.
With a roof over his head, Mikey reconnects with neighbourhood drug dealer Leondria (Judy Hill) and offers to run weed for her “like back in the day”. Leondria’s hard-nosed daughter June (Brittney Rodriguez) expects him to smoke the product but Mikey proves her wrong and expands his customer base to include hard-hatted workmen who frequent a doughnut shop run by Ms Phan (Shih-Ching Tsou). Her sole employee, 17-year-old Raylee aka Strawberry (Suzanna Son), takes Mikey’s breath away and he sets out to woo the teenager away from her boyfriend Nash (Parker Bigham) with more lies that stack up around him like a poorly constructed house of cards.
Opening with a full-blooded blast of boy band *NSYNC’s dancefloor bop “Bye Bye Bye”, Red Rocket traverses tricky narrative terrain with scenes of explicit sexual activity and wanton immorality on the part of Rex’s garrulous anti-hero. The script doesn’t let Mikey down gently – transgressions have consequences – but the on-screen relationship between Rex and Son is more sweet than salty and no matter how low the hustler sinks, part of us roots for him to defy the overwhelming odds.
Find Red Rocket in the cinemas