Red Rocket (CREDIT: A24)

Starring: Simon Rex, Suzanna Son, Bree Elrod, Brenda Deiss, Judy Hill, Brittany Rodriguez, Ethan Darbone, Shih-Ching Tsou, Marlon Lambert

Director: Sean Baker

Running Time: 128 Minutes

Rating: R for Getting Physical

Release Date: December 10, 2021 (Theaters)

Adult entertainment – or “pornography,” if you will – has become much more democratized and much less stigmatized in this here 21st century. And overall, I think as a society we’re better off for these developments. Greater openness means that the people who have been involved in the industry are much less likely to find their livelihoods ruined by alienation and/or abuse. Instead, they’re more likely to be seen as the human beings that they are. And that’s certainly the truth in Red Rocket, the latest from the very humanistic writer-director Sean Baker.

This is the down-and-out saga of Mikey Saber (Simon Rex), a formerly bigshot porn star who’s squandered whatever fortune he once had, so he takes the bus back to his sleepy Texas hometown and tries to weasel his way back into living with his estranged wife Lexi (Bree Elrod) and mother-in-law Lil (Brenda Deiss). The ladies initially want nothing to do with him, but he wins them over when he starts to make plenty of bank selling weed. Meanwhile, he’s looking for an angle to get back in front of the camera. The best plan he can come up with for doing that is by romancing the local teenage donut store cashier, who everybody calls by her nickname Strawberry (Suzanna Son). The age of consent in Texas is 17, so Mikey’s in the clear legally, but he’s transgressing pretty much every other ethical consideration. And yet despite everything, I found myself hoping that things would work out for him.

A lot of that has to do with the pitch-perfect casting of Rex, whom you might remember as a 90s MTV VJ or for playing Dorkus Supremes in the Scary Movie flicks. (He also even had his own short-lived pornography career when he was struggling for cash in his much younger days.) His specialty is underdogs who endure the full weight of the cosmos hilariously crashing into them, and yet they hop right back up smiling and ready to take it all again. A lot of Mikey’s tragedy is of his own making, but he still has that same never-say-die Rex-ian energy.

Objectively, I can’t approve of about 75% of what Mikey does in Red Rocket. Indeed, I can’t approve of how close he gets to Strawberry, even if she is genuinely charmed by him. Nor can I approve of the way he yanks Lexi hither and thither; she’s hardly perfect herself, but nobody deserves a runaround like that from their spouse, estranged or otherwise. And I certainly can’t approve of the way he abandons his neighbor in one crucial climactic moment that blows up the whole story. And yet, I still want to know: what’s next for Mikey Saber?

Red Rocket is Recommended If You Like: “Bye Bye Bye,” Pop culture footnotes, The underdog

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Strawberries