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In Baltimore, guerrilla filmmaker Cecil B. Demented leads a band of cinema revolutionaries who kidnap Honey Whitlock, a bitchy and aging movie star of big-budget froth. Cecil wants her in his movie, a screed against Hollywood they film during blitzkrieg attacks on a multiplex, a Maryland Film Commission press conference, and the set of a "Forrest Gump" sequel. He insists on celibacy; the cast and crew channel sexual energy into the production. With a family-values coalition, aggrieved Teamsters, and the police on their trail, Cecil needs help from porno, kung-fu, and drive-in audiences. What about Honey? Will she bolt or refuse to act? Or will she hit her marks and light up the screen? Written by
Mainstream movies and the studio system, as well as independent films and filmmakers, are sliced, diced, hammered and shredded by writer/director John Waters in his biting and funny satire, `Cecil B. Demented,' starring Stephen Dorff and Melanie Griffith. Railing against convention and adamant in his quest, a young man who wants to make a statement about bad movies, the way they're made, those who participate in these cinematic transgressions and those who flock to theaters to see the final product, dubs himself `Cecil B. Demented' and sets out to make a `real' indie film. Toward this end, he assembles a group of like-thinking would-be filmmakers and forms them into a lethal band of cinematic guerrillas he names the `Sprocket Holes,' and has them take jobs at and infiltrate a theater in Baltimore that is about to hold a lavish premiere of a new movie featuring Hollywood star Honey Whitlock (Griffith). Honey herself is scheduled to attend, and Demented's plan is to kidnap her and force her to star in his film, which will be shot `ambush' style, intruding upon real people and situations, rolling film and getting it in the can before anyone knows what happened. He hopes. Dedicated to making the kind of movie that should be made, the Sprocket Holes are not only willing to die for their art, but go so far as to take a vow to remain chaste until the film is completed.
`Demented' is by turns outrageous, violent and hilarious, and-- some would say, subjectively speaking-- that Waters pushes the envelope of good taste to the limit. But then again, he usually does, and it usually works. Anyone who knows John Waters' movies knows what to expect (indeed, anticipate), but those who come to his work unawares may be in for a jaw-dropping eye opener. When satire is done well it can cut both ways; this one is, and it does. Movies made by the studios for no other purpose than to make a buck, and which contain no artistic merit whatsoever are the obvious target of Waters' barrage, but so are the `auteur,' legends-in-their-own-minds `indie' filmmakers with a penchant for taking themselves too seriously. Along the way, Waters is having a laugh at himself, even as he laughs along with his fellow filmmakers at both ends of the spectrum, those at whom his shots are being fired.
As Demented, Dorff takes a somewhat over-the-top and highly energized approach to the character, in a performance punctuated with exclamation points. But he leaves no doubt in the mind of the viewer that he IS Cecil B. Demented. And you know that come what may, there's going to be no stopping him. Griffith, meanwhile, adds a nice touch as Honey, a character through whom we see all the transparencies of a Hollywood `star,' whose career has never been hampered by bad acting. Inured of a caustic and ego driven personality, she nevertheless manages to garner some sympathy as the story moves along and her vulnerable side is exposed. Griffith is perfect for the part, which is something of a good natured nudge in the ribs of her own image. As intended, it's just another instance of Waters pulling aside the curtain to reveal what is really behind the facade.
In a supporting role, Alicia Witt gives a memorable performance as Cherish, the porn star who sees her co-starring role with Honey in Demented's film as a way of legitimizing her career, while at the same time thumbing her nose at the industry that has for so long shunned her `talents.' The additional supporting cast includes Adrian Grenier (Lyle), Larry Gilliard Jr. (Lewis), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Raven), Jack Noseworthy (Rodney), Michael Shannon (Petie), Harriet Dodge (Dinah), Zenzele Uzoma (Chardonnay), Eric M. Barry (Fidget), Erika Lynn Rupli (Pam), Mink Stole (Mrs. Mallory), Patty Hearst (Fidget's Mother), Ricki Lake (Libby) and Kevin Nealon (Himself). A film that will definitely get your attention, `Cecil B. Demented' sets pretentiousness on it's ear by saying what most people think but rarely say due to the constraints of social protocol. Waters crosses some lines and doesn't pull any punches with this one, which may make it a bit hard for some to take; but movie lovers in general, and aficionados of independent film especially, should get a real kick out of it. It may be a bit skewed, but it's all a part of the magic of the movies. I rate this one 8/10.
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