A DIRTY SHAME
A film review by David N. Butterworth
Copyright 2004 David N. Butterworth
*1/2 (out of ****)
Rated NC-17 for "pervasive sexual content," "A Dirty Shame" reminds us,
lest we'd forgotten, that Baltimore's own John Waters is the filthiest filmmaker
Just when "The Prince of Puke" appeared to have finally settled into the
"mainstream" (with such films as "Hairspray," "Serial Mom," and "Cecil B. DeMented"),
he throws us this outlandish curveball, a wild, wacky, and amateurish mishmash
of a movie with more than a few laughs but very little overall worth.
The latest film from bad boy Waters is a sex addict's trip down memory
lane, a nostalgic throwback to the shock value of his mondo midnight movies
"Female Trouble," "Desperate Living," and the infamous "Pink Flamingos," all
three of which starred the obese transvestite known as Divine. Sleaze king
Waters has been quoted as saying "to me, bad taste is what entertainment is
all about. If someone vomits watching one of my films, it's like getting a
standing ovation" and while "A Dirty Shame" might not exactly sicken you, you
might get pretty sick of it.
For "‘Shame," said "pervasive sexual content" is explicit enough to offend
those of every denomination but the most offensive thing about the film isn't
its central preoccupation. It's that it's cheap and cheesy and repetitive and
obvious and corny and moronic and boneheaded.
Tracy Ullman, formerly of TV's "The Tracy Ullman Show" (I kid thee not),
has a field day playing Sylvia Stickles, a schlumpy Baltimore housewife who
gets conked on the head and threatens the very limits of common decency by turning,
for some inexplicable reason other than it makes for naughty cinema, into a
sex addict. Indoctrinated by a divinely randy auto mechanic named Ray-Ray (Johnny
Knoxville, trying to out Jim Carrey Jim Carrey), Sylvia quickly becomes one
of Ray-Ray's cultish disciples (No. 12, in fact) as they search for an original
Prior to said conking Sylvia has been the ultimate prude, withholding sex
from her docile husband Vaughn (singer Chris Isaak) and keeping her popular
daughter Caprice ("Hellboy"'s Selma Blair) under lock and key for exposing her
considerable--and considerably inflated--assets (Caprice's classy go-go stage
name is Ursula Udders). Only Big Ethel (Suzanne Shepherd) and Marge the Neuter
(Waters regular Mink Stole) of the Pinewood Park and Pay convenience store are
sexless and motivated enough to quash the lewd and lascivious behavior that's
bringing down the blue-collar neighborhood of Baltimore's Harford Road.
Ullman is terrific, playing the over-sexed uber-frump Sylvia with just
the right amount of zeal and silliness. Ullman's got a down-to-earthiness about
her that really works here, and she seems to be enjoying the outrageousness
to which her Sylvia is subjected. Likewise Isaak and Knoxville are admirable
in very different roles, with Blair deliciously ditzy as Caprice (more Wendy
Whoppers than Marlee Milk Duds one might say).
But the rest of the cast seem to have been pulled from the gutter without
so much as a screen test and the plot peters (no pun intended) out after about
15 minutes, just conkin' and sexin', conkin' and sexin', plus a quick cameo
by an uncredited David Hasselhoff in an airplane lavatory to end this freakish
If that's the dirty secret highlight of your "adults only" tale then it's
truly a dirty shame.
David N. Butterworth
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