Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Cecil B Demented

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

CECIL B DEMENTED

5/10

USA 2000
dir/scr John Waters
cin Robert Stevens
stars Melanie Griffith, Stephen Dorff
88 minutes

An entertaining but wildly uneven satire, Cecil B Demented is a distinct comedown after Waters last picture, the criminally underrated Pecker. While that movie had focus, momentum, an engaging lead (Edward Furlong) and a brilliant supporting turn (Brendan Sexton III), Cecil B is scattershot, ramshackle and undermined by a miscast Dorff in the title role.

But the movie has an inbuilt defence against picky criticism – its about a determinedly bad film-maker, one who proclaims technique is just failed style, and thus vindicating Cecil Bs visual flatness, its cobbled-together plot and jerky pace. When in doubt, Waters just has his characters run from one location to another as punk rock blasts away on the soundtrack, but Cecil would hail all such shortcomings as evidence of a defiant directorial stand against slick big-studio professionalism. Audiences, however may not be quite so indulgent, especially if they fail to get the endless movieworld in-jokes about the likes of Jack Valenti and David Begelman.

Cecil, who takes the term guerilla film-making literally, kidnaps fading Hollywood star Honey Whitlock (Griffith) and forces her to act in his no-budget, ultimate reality movie, Raving Beauty. At first horrified by her rough treatment at the hands of Cecil and his renegade band of actors and crew, Honey ends up sympathetic to the cause as her notoriety boosts her public profile and she realises the error of her multiplex ways. Its a cross between Ed Wood and the Patty Hearst story (Waters regular Hearst even pops up in a cameo), with touches of King of Comedy and Theatre of Blood, ending, Targets-style, at a drive-in where the real Holly confronts her cinematic image.

These nods are typical of Waters, who’s nothing if not a film buff, and his script is packed to bursting with terrific quips and one-liners which fly by at a bewildering rate. Its part of the reason why the books of his scripts are often more enjoyable than the finished movies – the lines lose a lot they’re delivered by the likes of Adrian Grenier, Jack Noseworthy and the rest of Cecil Bs unappealing gang. This tiresome bunch are repeatedly upstaged by the bit-part actors who get all the best throwaway lines – You finished fifth in the Oscars! snarls a dowdy cinemagoer at a startled Holly.

As Whitlock, Griffith seems a little disconnected, but she’s undeniably well cast – One day youll thank me for saving you from your bad career, she’s assured by her new director. But Dorff is a strange choice – his brand of moody introspection is exactly what Cecil doesnt call for, preventing the film from being quite as wild as it thinks it is. This is the kind of flamboyant showcase role the likes of Tim Curry or Geoffrey Rush would camp up to an enjoyably outrageous degree – though, on reflection, the part would only really make self if Waters played it himself.

by Neil Young