The United Artists Theater is showing a Pauly Shore film festival. General Cinema is playing “Scream 4,” “Lake Placid 2,” and “Vertigo: The Sequel.” The Maryland Film Commission is fawning over Honey Whitlock, a vain and loathsome Hollywood starlet.
How can a guerilla filmmaker like Cecil B. DeMented possibly be expected to live in a world like this?
This is the setting for notorious writer/director John Waters’ latest stab at the big time, “Cecil B. DeMented.” The title character, played by Stephen Dorff (“Blade,” “I Shot Andy Warhol”), is an independent filmmaker who has decided that the only way to eliminate the fluffy and worthless Hollywood film machine is all-out cinema warfare.
For his masterpiece, DeMented kidnaps Honey Whitlock, an award-winning actress and thoroughly unlikable person, and forces her to star in his latest work, “Raving Beauty.” DeMented plans to shoot his film in a style he calls “ultimate reality,” meaning every scene is shot in real locations with real people who have no idea what’s going on. If you’re thinking “Bowfinger” at this point, you’re not alone.
The message of “Raving Beauty” and DeMented’s motivation are the same: Hollywood cinema is empty and worthless, so it must be destroyed and replaced with independent film. If nothing else, “Cecil B. DeMented” can be remembered for an inspired scene in which DeMented and his crew lay waste to a theater playing “Patch Adams: The Director’s Cut.”
Whitlock, played by Melanie Griffith (“Crazy in Alabama,” “Working Girl”), has been losing her star power in Hollywood. As mainstream cinema leaves her behind, she is intrigued by DeMented’s methods and his devoted following. Gradually, she becomes a willing member of the near-psychotic director’s crew.
The filming of “Raving Beauty” becomes more and more violent, eventually carrying a substantial body count. DeMented and his crew are outlaws, and several of the scenes shot for their movie are followed by shootouts, either with the police or with teamsters. By the end, DeMented is racing to complete his crowning achievement before the authorities shut his production down for good.
Fans of Waters’ early works like “Pink Flamingos” and “Polyester” may be disappointed to find that he still has not returned to his shock-cinema roots. However, it is encouraging to see that he can create a relatively mainstream film which manages to effectively poke fun at Hollywood, independent filmmakers, and even itself.
Waters has never been famous for his writing ability, and some of the dialog in “DeMented” is painfully bad, but it’s easy to overlook that fault while caught up in the sheer overwhelming energy of this film. DeMented is obsessed, unstable, and not quite sane, but he never fails to be both interesting and strangely endearing. He’s a dangerous renegade, but you’re on his side from the start.
While no one would dare accuse John Waters of having good taste, his particular brand of bad taste is always oddly enjoyable. However, anyone planning on seeing this film should be warned ahead of time that, despite being toned down from Waters’ usual style, this is definitely not a movie for the easily offended. For example, Alicia Witt (“Urban Legends,” “Mr. Holland’s Opus”) plays one of DeMented’s crew, a former porn star named Cherish, and if the stories of her traumatic childhood aren’t enough to make you uncomfortable, then just wait until DeMented and crew seek shelter in a porn theater where one of Cherish’s movies is currently playing.
As long as you’re not expecting a deep, polished, artistic film, “DeMented” is a lot of fun. Despite some weak points, most notably some very irritating original music, this is a genuinely entertaining movie. It’s a satire that isn’t afraid to make fun of itself, and DeMented himself is the most endearing psychopath you’ll ever encounter. Film buffs will get more out of watching this one, but anyone who thought “Titanic” was overrated, “Patch Adams” was overwrought, and “Gone in 60 Seconds” was just plain bad will get an extra kick out of “Cecil B. Demented.”