Cecil B. Demented

2000, Movie, R, 88 mins


Is the world ready for a John Waters movie with action sequences? The bad taste auteur's latest is simultaneously the slickest thing he's ever done — the action may not rival DIE HARD's, but it's executed with crackling precision — and his first film in years with the anarchic energy of his early Midnight Movies; think MULTIPLE MANIACS with machine guns. The film's semi-autobiographical conceit is genuinely inspired: a lunatic young director, the self-titled Cecil B. Demented (Stephen Dorff, hilarious in a straitjacket) leads a devoted cult/gang of cinema terrorists called the Sprocket Holes, whose mission is to destroy mainstream movies. Shouting '60s-derived political slogans ("Hey, hey MPAA, how many films did you censor today?") they kidnap spoiled Hollywood star Honey Whitlock (Melanie Griffith) and force her to star in a radical underground movie they're shooting on the fly. The initially reluctant Honey succumbs to cinematic Stockholm Syndrome and throws in her enthusiastic lot with Demented's weirdo cast and crew, who eventually go down in flames during a climactic shoot-out at a drive-in. This is, obviously, an extended metaphor with the potential to run out of gas before it's over, and the script is littered with jokes only movie buffs will get. And yes, this being a Waters film, there are the inevitable, dramatically unnecessary detours; an (admittedly funny) speech by a self-hating heterosexual hairdresser seems less a plot point than simple ax-grinding. But the film has a giddy silliness that's thoroughly endearing, the actors are a hoot (particularly Griffith, who does a nicely self-effacing turn in what is essentially the Divine role). And it's good to see Waters's obsession with Patty Hearst, who has a cameo, finally pay off in some genuine irony. leave a comment --Steve Semels

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