Cecil B. DeMented

Directed by John Waters
Starring: Stephen Dorff, Melanie Griffith, Alicia Witt, Adrian Grenier.
MPAA Rating: R for strong crude sexual content, violence, language and drug use.

Review by Matt Heffernan <matt@filmhead.com>
September 18, 2000

"Hey, hey, MPAA! How many films did you censor today?"

Ah, the rallying cry of disenfranchised youth. With the lack of a war to protest, and civil rights widely respected, all that's left to take down is Hollywood. John Waters, the King of perverse absurdity, has unleashed his latest film, Cecil B. DeMented: a farcical tirade against the mediocrity of mainstream movies.

Stephen Dorff plays the title character, an aspiring director in Baltimore, who leads a group of young filmmakers eager to make their voices heard. Hollywood star Honey Whitlock (Melanie Griffith) is in town for the premiere of her latest vehicle, Some Kind of Happiness, which was filmed entirely in Baltimore. At The Senator Theatre, Cecil and his cohorts infiltrate the staff, and kidnap Honey before the film even begins.

They take her back to their studio inside an abandoned theatre. Cecil forces her to star in his film, Raving Beauty, about an art house owner who attacks commercial theatres for showing sentimental crap like Patch Adams: The Director's Cut. Only one scene is shot inside the studio; the rest is shot on location at unsuspecting theatres. The press and the police are trying to track Honey down, and her appearances are quite conspicuous. However, Honey starts to question her own role in the Hollywood machine, and soon becomes one of Cecil's voluntary followers.

I'd have to say that this film is easily the funniest that Waters has ever made. Right from the very beginning, the credits come up on theatre marquees, replacing the titles of bad movies and horrible ideas (Les Enfants du Paradis - finally dubbed in English!). The situations become more and more absurd, and the pace never slows down. At times, Waters goes a little too far over the top, and it doesn't work. It doesn't happen very often, but at least it shows that he still has no reservations about what he puts on screen (considering that Divine is no longer around to consume dog feces).

It's also refreshing to see Griffith take such a daring role, considering that her body of work is part of the film's satirical target. Honey is so close to her, as far as her status on Hollywood and the period in her career, Griffith had to become a convert to Waters' camp, as well.

I don't know why exactly, but the funniest thing in Cecil B. DeMented is on Cecil B. DeMented -- a tattoo that says "Otto Preminger". When Dorff flashes that to the camera for the first time, I laughed harder than I have all year. It's hard to say what makes great comedy, but simple things like that certainly help. I can't say whether other people -- those that cannot relate to guerilla filmmaking -- will find it as funny. Indeed, Waters' films are not for everybody, but that's why they are so special.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Cecil B. DeMented (2000)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
Cecil B. DeMented (2000) -- VHS
Cecil B. DeMented (2000) -- DVD
Cecil B. DeMented: Soundtrack -- Compact Disc

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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan