Toronto
2 min

Cecil B Disappointing

John Waters' latest film gets hijacked

LUNATIC. Stephen Dorff plays Cecil B Demented. Credit: Xtra files

It’s always frustrating to watch a film that was probably really good on paper, but that never gels on screen. Cecil B Demented, John Waters’ latest offering, has this very problem.



A gang of cine-terrorists (“Death to all who are cinematically incorrect!”), led by Steven Dorff in the title role, kidnaps Oscar-winning actress Honey Whitlock (Melanie Griffith) and forces her to star in their no-budget guerrilla film.



It sounds like Patty Hearst crossed with Female Trouble, but sadly, it doesn’t turn out that way.



Perhaps the problem is with casting. Demented is a return in many ways to Waters’ earlier works, which always had the irreplaceable Divine at their centre. Having a glamourous movie star like Griffith play a glamourous-movie-star-turned-terrorist is all very well and good, but lacks Waters’ singular genius of using Divine to embody beauty.



Or perhaps it’s a problem of parody. This is a twisted version of an action flick – “Die Hard for the Hollywood impaired,” Waters calls it – and as such, it follows the rules of the genre. Too bad those rules include alternating spectacular action sequences with dull, plot-advancing scenes.



While his budget doesn’t stretch to spectacular, Waters’ take on action is actually pretty satisfying. The movie opens with the events leading up to the kidnapping. While Cecil and his gang execute their well-rehearsed, carefully thought-out plot (there are lots of gags here, including an old Waters’ joke, the bomb-in-a-beehive), Honey, the Hollywood prima donna, is in her presidential suite getting ready for a charity appearance. She spews hatred for Baltimore, abuses her assistant (Ricki Lake) and is generally awful (“Is every person in the world an asshole?” she demands, flouncing out of the hotel elevator).



Eventually, everything falls into place, the storylines collide and the kidnapping ensues. There’s the requisite gunfire, some very Waters-esque moments involving Mink Stole as a charity chairperson and, to top it all off, Ms Griffith whining as only she is able, stuffed into the trunk of a limousine.



But then the dull part kicks in.



As Cecil’s gang members are introduced, all the momentum evaporates, never to be fully regained.



Which is a shame, because there’s some clever stuff going on here. The characters are lunatic – they include an ex-porn star who has regained repressed memories of having sex with her entire extended family one Christmas morning; a hairdresser who desperately wants to be gay, but “I’m straight, so I hate,” and an onanistic wardrobe master.



The making of Cecil’s film and Honey’s eventual collaboration with the terrorists make up the rest of the movie. But it ends up being a string of more or less funny situations with no strong sense of direction. Even one of the best jokes – that Patty Hearst is in a movie which parallels her own experience with the Symbonese Liberation Army – somehow falls flat.



There’s no doubt that this is a must-see for Waters fans, given the in-jokes and references to his other work that pop up everywhere. But let’s be blunt: This movie doesn’t work, and it’s not likely to win any converts.



Cecil B Demented opens Fri, Aug 18 at the Varsity Cinemas (55 Bloor St W); call (416) 961-6303.