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'Cecil B. DeMented'

Waters' 'Cecil B. DeMented' has fun with chaos

Friday, August 25, 2000

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Only John Waters, king of cinematic bad taste, likely would take it as a compliment for one of his movies to be judged sophomoric.

'Cecil B. Demented'

RATING: R, for strong, crude, sexual content, violence, language and drug use.

STARRING: Stephen Dorff, Melanie Griffith.

DIRECTOR: John Waters.

WEB SITE: www.demented

CRITIC'S CALL: 2 stars.


His latest feature, "Cecil B. DeMented," certainly qualifies. Like a gleeful imp, he flings satiric darts at virtually everyone in this movie about a gang of militant underground filmmakers who kidnap a Hollywood star and force her to appear in their no-budget epic.

That's an interesting plot line for a director whose repertory company includes the real Patricia Hearst. The former abducted heiress-turned-revolutionary bank robber appears in "Cecil B. DeMented" as the mother of the film crew's costumer.

But Waters is so busy mocking both the banality of mainstream Hollywood filmmaking and the fanaticism of the renegades that he seems to be working at cross-purposes.

Certainly, his heart is with the guerrillas. That's how he started making films: on the run and in your face, by the seat of his pants, in his native Baltimore, where he still shoots his movies. He was different, by God, and so were the values and characters he depicted. By society's standards, they were misfits who indulged in outrageous behavior. For Waters, shock value was much of the point.

Over the past decade or so, the mainstream caught up to Waters. His films became less shocking and more of a celebration of determined eccentrics who follow their obsessions wherever they lead.

Cecil B. DeMented (Stephen Dorff) is literally willing to die for his art, and to take the philistines with him. He speaks only in slogans and dogma -- "Seize the cinema!" and things like that -- and rules his followers with an iron hand that has Otto Preminger's name tattooed on it.

He and his band of not-so-merry moviemakers -- he has sworn everyone to celibacy until the project is complete -- kidnap obnoxious Hollywood star Honey Whitlock (Melanie Griffith) at the Baltimore benefit premiere of her new film. They force her to dress down and star in their ragtag production as a kind of cinematic Tanya, packing heat and wreaking havoc upon the perpetrators of mindless mainstream dreck.

Who couldn't sympathize with a raid on a suburban mall theater showing the director's cut of "Patch Adams" or a bid to shut down the filming of a "Forrest Gump" sequel starring Kevin Nealon?

But when the terrorists start becoming martyrs for their art -- and when we realize they are every bit as ridiculous as they sound -- Waters seems to be eating his young. Of course, this is the guy who had the late, great Divine eat dog-doo in "Pink Flamingoes," so what's the big deal?

Nothing, except that "Cecil B. DeMented" gets to be as heavy-handed as its characters, who are about as subtle as a porno flick. Don't blame the leads, though. Dorff plays it with such a straight face as to make it funny, and Griffith dives into her role with as much moxie as Honey Whitlock under the gun.

The final credits give thanks to, among others, the Maryland Film Commission, which happens to be another victim of Cecil B. DeMented's guerrilla tactics in the movie. Credit the MFC for being a good sport, and Waters with wanting to have it both ways -- and, maybe me,for taking Waters too seriously.

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