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Cecil B. Demented

Rated [R], 88 minutes
Starring Melanie Griffith and Stephen Dorff; Alicia Witt, Mink Stole, Ricki Lake, Patricia Hearst, Kevin Nealon
Written and Directed by John Waters

IN SHORT: Average Waters flick.

When John Waters' new flick Cecil B. Demented is funny, it is very very funny. During the rest of the moments of its running time, which is comparatively substantial, it is still a John Waters' flick. That, in and of itself should pretty well be fair warning to anyone who walks in to see this movie. In the run of movies that comprises his career, Waters has come so very far from the flat out gross-ness and/or drag queen/homosexual gag filled trashy movies (in JW's case, "trashy" is a complement) that there is almost a main stream way to review his movies. Almost.

God knows they're nothing like the abysmal trash that passes for intellectual arthouse fare and Waters has no pretensions about making such crap. His work, like the substance Divine scarfed up in Pink Flamingos, is an acquired taste. Not that I'm suggesting that you eat shit, or implying that I have (I get to watch more than my fair share on the big screen); you only need to sit through one dead on Waters "masterpiece" to properly attune your brain for anything to follow. In this reviewer's case, that flick was Polyester, a good long time ago.

If there is anyone more qualified to take on the no-budget guerrilla style of indie filmmaking as the starting point for a comedy, I can't think of anyone better. John Waters has walked in those shoes. He's lived this life and ha humor is sharp as a tack. Which is why Cecil B. Demented goes down with a soft thud. This movie is packed to the gills with jokes requiring more than a passing knowledge of indie and low budget film history. The gags are obvious enough that any one with average knowledge will recognize that a gag is in progress, but average knowledge won't clue you in to the real punchline (and even as a guy who did get the gag, the film just tries too damn hard . . .]

To wit, famed Hollywood Superstar Honey Whitlock (Melanie Griffith) has pasted on her happy publicity friendly face for an appearance at the Baltimore benefit premiere of her latest and greatest, Some Kind of Happiness. When no one is looking, Honey is quick to abuse her personal assistant Libby (Ricki Lake), one of the few to know that the high strung over 40 and divorced ex sex star is facing the end of her A-list days. Still, in Baltimore, she's a big star. The fawning theater manager, Sinclair Stevens (Stephen Dorff) is present to cater to the star's every need and whim and, while she isn't looking, covert hand signals and code phrases spoken into cell phones set up the terrorist film action to come. For Sinclair Stevens is a false identity -- as are the ID's of everyone working in The Senator Movie Palace. Stevens is Cecil B. Demented!, guerrilla low-budget filmmaker and his theater staff is his crew. A few well placed smoke bombs and blank ammunition fire set up the kidnapping of Ms. Whitlock, all captured on 16mm film for inclusion in Demented's work in progress, Raving Beauty.

Yep, real people intruding on real life with loosely scripted scenes. We saw it in Time Code earlier this year. Waters has been doing it for years, albeit without the gunfire. I think . . . Honey, of course, decides she likes this "new" style of moviemaking, even as the blank slugs turn into real bullets. For those old enough to remember Patty Hearst, she's been a member of Water's recurring troupe for a while, and has a bit here. Ah, Irony.

As the film plods on, everything gets more raucous and far fetched, in the time honored John Waters manner. If nothing else, wait for SNL's Kevin Nealon's bit as the new star of a sequel to a famous flick. It alone is worth the price of the rental, if you go by the rating below.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Cecil B. Demented, he would have paid...


pay per view level. Y'know, I've seen better and worse from Waters. This is pretty much middle of the road for a man who has never been middle of the road. If you get the in jokes (quick hint: Who was William Castle?) you'll have a much better time.

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