Combustible Celluloid
Search for Posters
Stream it:
Own it:
Search for streaming:
NetflixHuluGoogle PlayGooglePlayCan I
With: Melanie Griffith, Stephen Dorff, Patricia Hearst, Mink Stole, Ricki Lake, Alicia Witt, Kevin Nealon, Adrian Grenier, Harriet Dodge, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon
Written by: John Waters
Directed by: John Waters
MPAA Rating: R for strong crude sexual content, violence, language and drug use
Running Time: 88
Date: 05/17/2000

Cecil B. DeMented (2000)

4 Stars (out of 4)

A Poison-Pen Love Letter to Hollywood

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Is John Waters as cutting edge as he used to be? I think he is. Waters still feels like an outsider while Bobby and Peter Farrelly (and other current gross-out "auteurs") are comfortable working within the Hollywood system. They're multiplex-friendly. Waters, on the other hand, is still known for having the 200-pound transvestite Divine eat a dog turd on camera in Pink Flamingos (1972), and still seems capable of making offensive Super 8 movies in his backyard in Baltimore. Waters may have a budget ($9 million) and real Hollywood stars now, but he's still giving the finger to everything decent with his new film Cecil B. DeMented.

Stephen Dorff plays Cecil, an underground filmmaker, who, with his horny renegade crew (called the "Sprocket Holes") kidnaps Hollywood movie star Honey Whitlock (Melanie Griffith). They force her to be in their movie, Raving Beauty, about the owners of a failed rep movie house who become freedom fighters against Hollywood. As the crew drives around Baltimore filming Guerrilla-style, Honey slowly comes to believe in their cause. Alicia Witt co-stars as former porn star Cherish Oh Lordy, and Waters perennials Ricki Lake, Mink Stole, and Patty Hearst appear. (In a way, the kidnapping is similar to Hearst's own story, but the movie avoids any obvious references.)

Cecil B. DeMented takes every opportunity to make fun of the ghoulish money-monster that Hollywood has become, from Patch Adams: The Director's Cut to Gumped Again (starring Kevin Nealon). It also attacks every conceivable aspect of commercial cinema, from audiences talking during the film to the Baltimore film commission serving crab cakes to visiting filmmakers. The more cutting edge the group, however, the better allies they are for Cecil' s cause; kung-fu and porno fans lend Cecil a hand, while "family" movie patrons spit venom at him.

Representing big-time Hollywood ego, Griffith has one of her best roles ever. Waters hasn't received enough credit for the female roles he's created since the death of his regular leading lady Divine, such as Kathleen Turner as the psycho matriarch in Serial Mom (1994) and Christina Ricci as the anal-retentive laundrette owner in Pecker (1998). Griffith joins them as a perfect Waters heroine. She was weaned, after all, on trash movies like Body Double (1984), Fear City (1984), Something Wild (1986) (in which Waters had a small role), and Cherry 2000 (1988). She belongs here, and it's good to have her back.

Waters gives a special place in his movie for his favorite directors who made careers on the edge of Hollywood. Each of the Sprocket Holes have the name of a great fringe director tattooed on their bodies; Pedro Almodovar, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Samuel Fuller, Sam Peckinpah, Russ Meyer, William Castle, Spike Lee, and David Lynch, and Cecil himself has Otto Preminger. (Pier Paolo Passolini also gets a loving tribute.) In a way, Waters belongs on this list by being a fringe director himself. But unlike those other filmmakers (except William Castle), he's not so concerned with making cinema itself. He doesn' t bother composing interesting shots or deciding how long to let a shot linger, or whose face to cut to for the most emotionally resonant effect. He's more concerned with the effect cinema has on his audience, particularly, a gross-out effect. All he wants to do is simply tell his story, and the more outrageous the better. Maybe he has mellowed a bit, but Cecil B. DeMented is still uber-cool.

DVD Details: Director John Waters provides a commentary track, and the disc includes a featurette "Comedy Central's Canned Ham," trailers, photo galleries, cast and crew bios and production notes.

Movies Unlimtied