Combustible Celluloid
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With: Simon Rex, Bree Elrod, Suzanna Son, Brenda Deiss, Ethan Darbone, Shih-Ching Tsou, Judy Hill, Brittney Rodriguez, Marlon Lambert
Written by: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch
Directed by: Sean Baker
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and pervasive language
Running Time: 128
Date: 12/10/2021

Red Rocket (2021)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Smut Shell

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Sean Baker's comedy-drama about an ex-adult-film star is layered in realism and a sense of place, but it also tells its relentless story of sex and power plays in a disarmingly free-wheeling style.

Former adult film star Mikey Davies, a.k.a. "Mikey Saber" (Simon Rex), returns to his Texas hometown after a run of bad luck. He crashes with his estranged wife Lexi (Bree Elrod) and her mother Lil (Brenda Deiss), and, unable to find a job, begins dealing pot. After making some cash, he celebrates by taking Lexi and Lil out to donuts.

Working at the donut shop is 17-year-old Strawberry (Suzanna Son), and Mikey is instantly enthralled by her. He becomes obsessed with the idea of turning her into a new adult star and making his way back into the industry. Things seem to be going well for a while, but an accident sends things spinning out of control.

Baker's earlier films all dealt, in some way, with the business of sex, but Red Rocket is funnier, and trickier, than his earlier efforts (Starlet, Tangerine, and The Florida Project). The movie benefits most from star Rex, who has been a rapper, comedian, model, MTV VJ, and, yes, something of an adult film actor (he performed in a few "solo" videos). His sly, jabberjaw performance hinges on his ability to charm — or badger — anybody into doing anything. His chattering is so tenacious that it eventually becomes funny.

He makes it look so breezily effortless, that he disguises just how despicable the character really is, at least until the point when the movie is ready to show it. The rest of the unseasoned cast are all remarkable finds as well, giving the movie a strange air of authenticity. The backdrop, a rundown Texas town, peppered with smokestacks and electrical grids (the Texas Killing Fields are said to be nearby as well), suggests an American lostness, and a sense of being stuck without much leverage.

More ominously, we get background hints of the 2016 election and its dire results. In a country that cares so little about people like these, Red Rocket is a story of the desperate lengths and depths a free-thinker and scoundrel with go to, to succeed.

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