The charisma of Mikey.
There is no denying the charisma of Simon Rex as Mikey. In director Sean Baker’s seventh feature “Red Rocket”, he’s a down on his luck porn actor who returns from LA to his hometown of Texas City. Taking the moral low ground, “Red Rocket” is fun up to a point.
Mikey the motormouth.
Mikey is a motor mouth and a charmer. He arrives out of the blue, covered in bruises, at the house of his estranged wife Lexi (Bree Elrod). However, we know immediately, that no matter how much he has hurt her in the past, she will be putting him up for the night. You ask why the sudden return and why the bruises? As it happens, we never find out. And it doesn’t matter. It’s not that kind of movie.
Value judgement: Mikey has no conscience and no morals.
Mikey has no conscience and no morals. In addition he’s a suitcase pimp. A man who recruits and manages women in the porn industry. As soon as Mikey is settled, first on Lexi’s couch and then back in her bed, he starts dealing drugs to the locals. After scamming his drug source, he sets his sights on recruiting seventeen-year-old Doughnut Hole employee Strawberry. Dazzled by his tales of Hollywood, she sleeps with him. Strawberry is played by a young actress named Suzanna Son who radiates real star quality like a young Melanie Griffith.
From the moral high ground of “Starlet” to the low ground of “Rocket”.
I first started to follow Sean Baker’s career when I saw, and loved, “Starlet” back in 2012. It features a lovely performance by Dree Hemingway as a young girl working in the Valley porn industry who forms an unlikely friendship with an 85-year-old lady (the late Besedka Johnson). Although his subsequent films (all cowritten with Chris Bergoch) “Tangerine” (2015) and “The Florida Project” (2017) have much to recommend them, “Starlet” is still my favorite Baker film.
“Rocket” has no heart whereas “Starlet” has tons.
That judgement also includes “Red Rocket”. Why?
Reason number one is that after Mikey settles down, at 128 minutes, there is still a quite a bit of “Red Rocket” to go. In other words, it sags in the middle
Reason number two is the gradual discovery that the film is set in the summer of 2016. With Trump and Hillary being on TV so much they become background characters. However, politics is never mentioned.
Reason number three is that no matter how charismatic a central character, when they are as rotten to the core as Mikey it’s tough to watch. Especially, when there is no retribution. The storyline with Strawberry is left open-ended. Not so Lonnie (Ethan Darbone, very good) a young man who looks up to Mikey and therefore takes the blame for a leaving the scene of a crash that was caused by him.
Reason number four is the simple fact that, “Red Rocket” has no heart. It’s the anthesis of “Starlet” which has tons.