Simon Rex excels as porn star with bad decisions.
Simon Rex is known for being in the “Scary Movie” sequels: 3, 4, and yes, 5. Ugh. And he’s also appeared in other very bad comedies, most of which I’ve had the mind of skipping. And he’s also a rapper with the name “Dirty Nasty,” and the only song I’ve heard from him was “Boombox.”
Now, Rex is back with another movie, called “Red Rocket,” which is actually a game-changer from him, probably his best work on film. Collaborating with writer/director Sean Baker (“Tangerine,” “The Florida Project”), his character study is complex and comical, and given his character’s personality, we often cringe at his choices. And yet, there’s something about it that shakes us up.
In “Red Rocket,” he plays an ex-porn star named Mikey, who comes up all beat up from Los Angeles to his wife’s Lexi’s (Bree Elrod) house in Texas, and she’s appalled that he would even show up. She hates him for his stupidity, and yet, they’re still married. Nonetheless, he convinces her and her mother Lil (Brenda Deiss) to let him crash here for a few days, on the condition that he finds a job and pays ma at least $200 a week.
When no one will hire him, given his status, he resorts to his old games of selling weed on the streets with joints all rolled up in American flag wrappers. His boss is Leondria (Judy Hill) and her daughter is June (Brittney Rodriguez). He also pulls some weight around the house, gets in bed with his wife when the mother-in-law sleeps, and is able to pay his rent.
Mikey then reunites with his pimp buddy Lonnie (Ethan Darbone), whom he starts hanging out with, until a tragedy sets things out of place. And he also has a connection with a much younger donut shop employee nicknamed Strawberry (Suzanna Son), who will turn 18 in 3 weeks. “Legal as an Eagle,” he says. Not only do they fool around and have fun, but he could also make her a porn star, too. And Strawberry does have a nice ring to it.
The theme song for “Red Rocket” is “Bye Bye Bye” by *NSYNC, and it’s used in the opening shot, in backwards near the end, and when the wife mocks Mikey. Like how Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” opened “The Florida Project,” this movie uses retro songs in the right sense.
I admire how Baker is able to show us how unlikable Mikey is the way he showed us the fowl-mouthed kids in “The Florida Project.” And while parts of the movie cop out, there’s still enough laughs, shocks, and interests to keep us involved. I’ve already mentioned how good Rex is in the lead role, but we also get some fine supporting work from some new faces: Elrod playing the estranged wife, Son having an affective vibe as the teenager, and Darbone with the looks and feels as of a buddy with some issues to come.
“Red Rocket” has a certain kind of style, atmosphere, and ambiance to really set the mood of the story and characters. It’s another example of reality in shabby areas whose residents you either love or hate, depending on their actions.
In Select Theaters This Friday