Red Rocker

Review by Willard Manus

Simon Rex plays a classic anti-hero in RED ROCKER, the latest film by director Sean (“The Florida Project”) Baker (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Chris Bergoch). Rex plays a burnt-out porn star named Mikey, who returns to his home town of Texas City (near Galveston) after an absence of twenty years. Mikey might be broke and hungry, but his mind and mouth are still working at warp speed as he tries to claw his way back into society.

First he seeks out his estranged wife, Lexi (Bree Elrod), who is living with her mother (Brenda Deiss) in a ramshackle bungalow at the edge of an oil field whose looming, garishly-lit derricks provide the backdrop to the tawdry tale that unfolds. Lexi, another ex-porn star, is now reduced to turning the odd trick to survive. A crack-head like her toothless (but likable) mother, she still has enough sense to try and fend Mikey off. She knows him for the braggart and liar that he is, but that doesn’t prevent him from trying to con her with his sweet talk.

Mikey professes his love for her and swears he’s a new man, one who’ll be a good husband this time around, one who’ll even mow the lawn for her. Pretty soon he’s not only “crashing with her for a few days,” but sharing her bed and eating her food...and talking endlessly about his various get-rich-quick schemes. Trouble is, Mikey has done time for his participation in a crooked business deal. Nobody will hire an ex-con like him, a turn of events which mightily irks him.

Ultimately, he is obliged to peddle weed to survive. He purchases the goods from a hard-boiled black woman named Leondria (Judy Hill) and resells it to skate-boarders and strippers. That puts some cash in his pocket, but it’s not enough to satisfy his dreams of wealth, power and status. Those dreams suddenly seem achievable when he meets Strawberry (Susanna Son), a redheaded nymphet working in a donut shop. Strawberry is seventeen and much impressed by Mikey’s porn-star exploits. She not only watches porn herself but loves the idea of taking part in a dirty movie.

Mikey’s predatory instincts kick in. While romancing and seducing her, he gets on the phone and seeks out one of his old contacts back in L.A.’s adult film industry. “I’m managing the hottest thing since Linda Lovelace,” he tells him. When he gets a favorable response, he quickly makes plans to leave Texas City with Strawberry and pimp her out in California.

Mikey is such a scoundrel, such a conniving son of a bitch, that his comeuppance is inevitable. But that shouldn’t spoil your enjoyment of the film. Simon Rex does a nifty job as Mikey, makes you like and even admire him, even as you disapprove of his dishonesty and cupidity. The other key actors are equally as skilled, especially Susannah Son. Her portrayal of Strawberry is as wily and cunning as it is sexy and provocative.

RED ROCKET takes place in 2016 against the background of the Clinton-Trump election campaign (Trump billboards are everywhere
in this working-class corner of Texas). This gives the movie a political edge, one which cinematographer Drew Daniels emphasizes with his atmospheric camera work (flashes of Trump fulminating on TV, images of shabby trailer camps and honky-tonks, glimpses of oil-stained fields and backyards. America the Unbeautiful.)

RED ROCKER is a tough, gritty movie redeemed by profane humor and moments of humanity at which the actors excel. There is also a catchy soundtrack, centered on ‘N Sync’s “Bye Bye Bye.”