Cecil B. Demented (2000)
Directed by John Waters
Cast: Melanie Griffith, Stephen Dorff, Alicia Witt, Adrian Grenier, Larry Gilliard Jr., Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jack Noseworthy, Eric M. Barry, Mink Stole, Ricki Lake, Patty Hearst, Michael Shannon.
2000 88 minutes
Rated: (for strong crude sexual content, violence, language and drug use).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 15, 2000.
A satire, as well as a bombast, of the Hollywood filmmaking system and everything mainstream, "Cecil B. Demented" highlights a riotous premise that seemingly couldn't miss, particularly with ex-shockmeister John Waters (1972's "Pink Flamingos," 1994's "Serial Mom") at the helm, but somehow it comes off as only partially successful. While priceless in many of its jabs at today's decidedly sad state of motion pictures, Waters has only garnered about forty-five minutes of worthwhile material, and then multiplies that, with the second half feeling far more repetitive and tiresome than it should. It's a shame, too, because there's a lot to like here.
Set in Baltimore, where "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" alone can be found taking up all six screens at a local multiplex, and where such distressing fare as "Patch Adams: The Director's Cut" and "Lake Placid 2" are reeling in audiences, a psychotic film director named Cecil B. Demented (Stephen Dorff) and his array of--shall we say-- alternative groupies who call themselves the Sprocket Holes, have decided to finally do something to stop Hollywood's progression into making bad cinema. Decked out as ushers for a local premiere of pampered, bitchy movie star Honey Whitlock's (Melanie Griffith) new movie, "Some Kind of Happiness," the Sprocket Holes manage to take over the theater and kidnap Honey, taking her to their obscure lair in a dilapidated city building.
What Cecil and his "film crew," which include horny ex-porno starlet Cherish (Alicia Witt) and excessive druggie Lyle (Adrian Grenier), have in store for Honey is that they are going to force her into starring in their very own guerilla-style movie which, coincidentally, is based upon themselves and their self-felt duty to do away with mainstream filmmaking. As their crimes mount around Baltimore (nothing is pretend with these auteurs), and Honey finds herself the star of the show, she eventually begins to sympathize with her band of misfit captors, and starts to enjoy her newfound fame as not only an actress, but a legend.
One of the major issues that Water fails to exploit is that, while the Sprocket Holes are against Hollywood and all that it stands for, and wish nothing more than to make a good film, what they real are doing is making an even worse no-budget movie that only Ed Wood could be proud of. Had they once been confronted by someone who honestly told them just how unprofessional their own film was, "Cecil B. Demented" might have been able to add another dimension, giving the large cast more to do than the mostly one-note roles they are asked to play.
Nevertheless, Melanie Griffith is outstanding as the spoiled Honey Whitlock in, possibly, her most assured performance since 1991's "Paradise." If anything, it's certainly her most courageous, as she is asked to do things that could only be in service of her faithfulness to her art as an actress. Griffith has always had a gift for comedy (see 1988's "Working Girl" or 1999's "Crazy in Alabama" for further proof), and she makes the most of her frequent acid-tongued remarks (at one point she asks her assistant, played by Ricki Lake, to call down to the manager and ask if President Nixon ever got f***ed in her hotel room).
Stephen Dorff (1998's "Blade") is appropriately manic as the title character of Cecil, who demands that the group not have an sort of sex until after their filming has completed, so as to not use up any of their creative energy. In secondary roles as the Sprocket Holes group, Alicia Witt (1998's "Urban Legend"), Adrian Grenier (1999's "Drive Me Crazy"), and Jack Noseworthy (1999's "Idle Hands") all have lots of fun and ham it up appropriately.
After several years of losing some of his low-rent, down-'n'-dirty charm that ran through his earlier films, John Waters has returned to his roots with "Cecil B. Demented," and for that, it's cause to be thankful. But, somehow, the film feels too much like a rush job, as if Water formed an idea and immediately wrote a screenplay, without much thought going into if it was as good as it could possibly be. "Cecil B. Demented" is the type of film that knows exactly what it wants to be, but never fully finds out how to do it.
©2000 by Dustin Putman