Release Date – 11th March 2022, Cert – 18, Run-time – 2 hours 8 minutes, Director – Sean Baker
Washed-up porn star Mikey (Simon Rex) returns to his small town Texas roots, trying to start his career back up while getting caught up with his ex-wife (Bree Elrod) and teenage doughnut shop worker Strawberry (Suzanna Son).
With Red Rocket, Sean Baker once again takes a look at the dramas of those away from the mainstream, or rather those next door to it. We see washed-up porn star Mikey (Simon Rex) return after years in LA to the Texas town which he used to call home, to a brick-wall response. He hasn’t thought that turning his back on everyone in his life would cause them to hold grudges against him. Including his ex-wife, Lexi (Bree Elrod), who he ends up living with again while he tries to set his career back up. He’s waiting for his second big break, but doesn’t know where to find it. Until he meets seventeen year old doughnut shop worker Strawberry (Suzanna Son). His initial attention, and frequenting of Donut Hole – almost as much as the builders across the road – begins to switch to his own thoughts of jumping back into the porn industry, with her help. She could be the person to save him and pick him back up in multiple ways.
This relationship between the pair, which becomes more prominent the more Mikey focuses on getting back to California, could so easily become uncomfortable, particularly with the various raunchy (to put it mildly…) discussions that take place between them. The thought does enter your mind that it might begin to reach a point that’s a step too far, however Baker manages to just about restrain things by not making the relationship the core of the film. In fact Red Rocket isn’t even always about Mikey and the way he interacts with the world, more the way the world; and the people within it, interact with, and behave around, him. It forms a set of events with no largely overarching plot, although characters (particularly the comedically determined protagonist, excellently performed by Rex who manages to bring about a fair few chuckles throughout the piece) do have their own personal hopes and goals, and it passes well in this way.
Through Baker’s now distinct cinematography we see the various locations in a hazy, almost dizzying for the characters, light. As they each get caught up in each other’s stories; trying to get used to a new life while attempting to continue on as they once did before, although change can properly be brought about for good, there’s plenty to see and be involved in. Amongst the, somewhat light feeling, dramas there’s a fair handful of humour dashed throughout the piece that keeps things going and certainly keeps you in place as Mikey’s ambitions begin to overinflate and overtake even himself, while never quite seeming unlikeable due to coming across as egotistical.
It’s as events change because of Mikey’s not properly thought through dreams that the various incidents to bring the film to a close arrive. Much of the third act feels somewhat tacked on to the rest of the film, generally heightening the already existent feeling that things could be cut down a bit. Much like the central figure the film almost begins to get ahead of itself and, while not an entirely different piece, does feel as if it’s gone through something of a shift to match the on-screen panic and desperation in what becomes a true last-ditch attempt to leave the perceived emptiness of small town life for good. Rex is still on great form as his character and his hopes are brought more towards the centre at this time, but the film as a whole begins to sway as it introduces and brings back elements to wrap itself up. It’s a slightly drawn out set of events that pushes the run-time beyond the already lengthy two hour mark and begins to somewhat disengage you from the piece as a whole. There’s still something good playing out, just of a rather different pitch and tone to that which was jogging along beforehand.
By bringing in some laughs, thanks to a great ensemble cast, particularly an excellent Simon Rex, Red Rocket manages to stray away from an overly heavy, or uncomfortable, feel. However, its run-time feels stretched, particular in the shift of, what feels like, the tacked on third act.