Metacritic (8/10), Rotten Tomatoes (****)
While the tawdry salaciousness of writer-director Sean Baker’s latest may readily offend the sensibilities of many viewers, it nevertheless serves up a refreshingly original premise with wickedly biting humor and a loathsome protagonist who asks for trouble at every turn. This tale of a down-and-out porno star/con man who escapes his chaotic existence in L.A. to regroup in his humble hometown of Texas City paints a scathing portrait of shameless hustler no one wants to help but who is willing to do anything to survive and (he hopes) to get back to the life he’s accustomed to. The result is a series of edgy, hilarious encounters with ghosts from his past, as well as some new players in his life, most of whom unapologetically bring new meaning to the words “self-serving” and “repulsive,” qualities they possess that are often on par with the object of their sanctimonious ridicule. But the picture’s ample, well-earned laughs make up for whatever might come across as patently disgusting, especially in instances when chickens come home to roost. Reminiscent of the filmmaker’s previous works “Tangerine” (2015) and “The Florida Project” (2017), “Red Rocket” presents us with a gritty, uncensored look at the American underbelly, but with more sustained humor this time out, despite a handful of serious moments included for good measure. The film is admittedly a little long, meandering and episodic at times, but those faults are made up for by a captivating, engaging narrative and the fine performances of Simon Rex, Suzanna Son, and the rest of the picture’s ensemble cast, many of whom are not professional actors. This offering clearly won’t appeal to everyone, and sensitive viewers should probably stay away. But, for those who appreciate originality and inventiveness with a blatantly twisted sense of humor and a clear (though not heavy-handed) cautionary tale message, this “rocket” may just send you into orbit.