Red Rocket: Simon Rex shines in redneck Texas sex-fest
Written by Archie Macintosh.
Red Rocket is slang for a dog’s erection. The dog in question is Mikey ‘Saber’ Davies (Simon Rex). The film follows Mikey as he returns to his hometown in Texas after seventeen years working in Los Angeles as an adult film star. Moving in with his estranged wife, former co-star Lexi (Bree Elrod), and her mother Lil, Mikey must navigate his fall from LA grace in the face of some pretty complicated relationships.
Claiming to hate the small town Texan life he left behind, he quickly begins to regress and recreate his teenage years. Within a few weeks he is back dealing weed and sleeping with Lexi, all while secretly dating a seventeen-year-old named Raylee/Strawberry (Suzanna Son). The shots of Mikey cruising around aimlessly on his kid’s yellow bicycle recall coming-of-age films, except actor Simon Rex is forty-seven years old and came of age a generation ago.
Rex, who has done adult film work in the past, puts in a great performance as Mikey. He fills every scene with energy and it’s easy to see why his sloppy charm has an effect on people. But with Mikey everything is a front. For example, a set of injuries at the start of the film are explained away by a string of confectionery lies. He brags about awards won by female sex workers as if they are his own achievements. He can’t get hard without one of his ‘magic pills’. And underneath the easy-going charm Mikey is a predator. He identifies, isolates and takes advantage of people like Raylee and his neighbour Lonnie who are too young or trusting to see through his lies.
The film is set during the 2016 presidential election and the parallels with Trump are unavoidable and hardly subtle. At the core of this film is a man who believes in his ability to transform the world around him, never letting decency or conscience stand in his way. Why should someone with 20.1 million views on Pornhub care about small things like that? It’s a warped, twenty-first century American Dream.
Red Rocket is littered with characters left stranded by the difficulty and hopelessness of their situation. Lonnie’s dad cares about nothing except keeping his garden immaculate after the death of his wife, while Lex and Lil’s garden has been left to overgrow; two opposite responses to loss and lack of opportunity. The oil refineries spew fire into the sky and workers back into the streets after their shift, the latter dead-eyed and wanting to ‘kill themselves’. The film returns again and again to the subject of work: getting it, keeping it and the different kinds of value placed upon it.
As in his previous films, director Sean Baker confronts the stigma placed upon sex work. Mikey’s years as a pornstar stand in the way of him getting other, more conventional jobs (although he doesn’t seem too bothered about that) and Lil worries that Lexi’s work as a prostitute is too dangerous. Baker also puts America’s military honour culture on display in a scene at the mall when Lonnie is confronted having pretending to be a veteran. The scene is reminiscent of what Red Rocket does throughout. It invites audiences to question why characters struggle to feel valuable and the depths they will go to to feel anything.
Even the landscape is bleached a sickly yellow by the sun and marked with the souvenirs of deprivation. Lonnie takes Mikey to fish in a slick of greasy water opposite the Texas Killing Fields, where the bodies of thirty murder victims have been found. Even the home becomes inflected by this sense of tragic waste as an abandoned car slowly decays in Lex and Lil’s garden.
This is a film about characters who have been failed by the state and by the people they trusted. They can be cruel, selfish and unlikeable, but most of all they are vulnerably human.