Cecil B. Demented
review by Dan Lybarger, 18 August 2000

For over thirty years, Baltimoreís favorite son John Waters has made a career with films that gleefully flout morality and good taste. His latest work of delightfully unrepentant trash, Cecil B. Demented, is one of his lesser works. Nonetheless, it demonstrates that he has a lot to teach the current generation of gross-out artists.

A lot of recent comedies like Ready to Rumble ridicule their misfit protagonists. Waters, however, always gives viewers the feeling that heís one of the outcasts heís filming. For example, Hairspray proved once and for all that overweight people can be beautiful and roused its audience against the more conventional-looking antagonists. Similarly, Cecil B. Demented clearly sides with its protagonists and their cause. The title character (Stephen Dorff) is an aspiring director who has recruited a variety of disillusioned movie lovers to literally declare war on Hollywood. He and his crew, known as the Sprocket Holes, are willing to kill and die for better flicks. From the opening frames, itís obvious they have a lot to be militant about. The only offerings their cineplexes have are the new installments of Star Wars and Star Trek and a Pauly Shore film festival.

But even guerilla filmmakers need a star. To obtain one, the Sprocket Holes kidnap the spoiled, over-the-hill starlet Honey Whitlock (a typecast but effective Melanie Griffith) during a gala premiere in (where else but?) Baltimore, a kidnapping that allows Waters to dish out dozens of vintage wisecracks ("MPAA. How many films did you censor today?"). He also does the inconceivable: he features a disturbing and often sidesplitting series of gags involving a disabled child. Waters gets away with this cruel series by targeting the exploitative "poster-child" mentality of some charities.

After successfully abducting Honey and inadvertently giving the smug matriarch of a Baltimore charity a heart attack. Cecil and the Sprocket Holes find themselves well on their way into producing their first film and toward jail. At first, Honey, who normally verbally abuses her entourage, tries to resist her captors. This is a wise move on her part because they film themselves raiding movie theaters showing inferior product (one frighteningly believable selection is Patch Adams: The Directorís Cut). As her captivity progresses, however, Honey finds her giving a better performance than sheís given in years and becoming a cult hero for taking on bad movies and the executives who make them. When she attacks a producer who has just made yet another film based on a video game, he lamely retorts, "Donít blame me! I donít even watch movies."

Waters can stand on firm ground when he attacks studios for reading more ledgers than scripts. Itís obvious that he loves movies and wants the best from them. In some ways, the biggest problem with Cecil B. Demented is that Waters preaches to the choir a little too much. His potshots lose their impact as the film wears on, and some of the side gags fall flat (a Sprocket Hole laments that she has recovered memory syndrome). The film is still worth catching because Watersí sincerity is never in doubt, and the Sprocket Holes themselves are a scream. Cecilís perpetually stoned leading man Lyle (Adrian Grenier) makes an interesting argument for drug addiction. "I used to have a lot of problems. Now, I have just one," he states. Thereís also a priceless sequence where action movie fans beat up pro-censorship or "family" movie forces.

Waters may never reach the tasteless glory of the ending to Pink Flamingos again. Perhaps itís just as well. Cecil B. Demented features no one eating dog feces, but it does offer disgruntled filmgoers a frequently entertaining outlet.

Click here to read Cynthia Fuchs' interview.

Written and
Directed by:

John Waters

Stephen Dorff
Melanie Griffith
Adrian Grenier
Alicia Witt
Larry Gilliard Jr.
Maggie Gyllenhaal
Jack Noseworthy
Michael Shannon
Harriet Dodge
Zenzele Uzoma
Eric M. Barry
Erika Lynn Rupli
Mink Stole
Ricki Lake
Kevin Nealon
John Michaelson
Eric Roberts
Judith Knight Young







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