Saturday, April 13, 2024

Review: “Red Rocket” Revival for MTV Personality Simon Rex as a Charming Porn Star Conman

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“Red Rocket” allegedly opens this weekend, somewhere. If you’re up for a terrific indie film with a hard R rating, then it’s for you. I was totally charmed by it.

Simon Rex, in the 1990s, was an MTV Personality and a sometime adult film star. So he is perfect casting for Mikey, Sean Baker’s creation, a washed up porn star who’s been kicked out of Hollywood. He arrives in Texas City, Texas, basically nowhereland, bloodied and bruised, with no money or possessions. All he has are hardened good looks and a motor mouth. He can’t stop talking. A professional con man, Mikey just talks and talks. And plots.

He talks his way into a shack of a house next to an oil refinery with his estranged wife (Bree Elrod) and her cranky mother (Brenda Deiss).  Their center of entertainment is a donut store with a 17 year old teen cashier named Strawberry (a remarkable Suzanna Son) who Mikey sees as a potential porn star. He starts grooming her for his revival in L.A. At home, he’s sleeping with the wife, Lexi, and dealing drugs courtesy of his mother-in-law’s engaging friends (Judy Hill and Brittany Rodriguez).

Sean Baker’s last film was “The Florida Project,” another indie gem that felt vibrant and refreshing and still does, set in a Florida swamp with lots of little poor kids and their mothers living in a motel. Baker is great at finding local people who either think they’re actors or becomes ones in his process. So he has done here, too. Every single one of the people Mikey meets are completely endearing. You root for them not to be taken in by this charming hustler.

But to Baker’s and Rex’s credit, you root for Mikey, too. He can sell sand to the Arabs, as they say, or water to fish. Because even as he’s cadging free rides around town from his pathetic neighbor (Ethan Darbone)– they are now best friends– you know his demise is near. The center will not hold when all of the people he’s defrauding finally meet up from their separate story threads.

And be advised: this is a movie not afraid to throw in full frontal male nudity with abandon. But why not? Mikey is a clothing-averse. He’s a porn star after all. He unwittingly exposes himself to his mother-in-law, and later, to the world, without thinking twice. And you think– as everyone says to him– put on some pants.

“Red Rocket” got limited love from the Gotham Awards, it might get some from the Spirit Awards. Baker is the king of the intimate genre of filmmaking. Unlike Chloe Zhao, of “Nomadland,” I hope he never makes a Marvel movie.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedmanhttps://www.showbiz411.com
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.
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