In effect, John Waters has two careers. He makes shaggy, lower-depths-of-Baltimore comedies that wink and jab at transgressive themes, and he’s also a witty raconteur/essayist, a man in desperate need of his own talk show. The deranged part is this: His outlaw analyses of pop culture, always a crucial part of his films, have now started to consume them.
In Waters’ Cecil B. DeMented, a megalomaniac punk-cult director (Stephen Dorff) kidnaps a Hollywood star (Melanie Griffith) and uses her to wage a guerrilla campaign against everything that’s homogenized and hateful in mainstream movies. That’s a promising idea for a satire, and the film has a few viciously funny moments, like the one in which Cecil’s followers commit vengeful mayhem at a mall theater. You can feel Waters’ rage at what’s happened to Hollywood. Yet what, exactly, are we to make of these art-headed cineterrorists? They’re like a cross between the Symbionese Liberation Army and the staff of Film Comment. The more they flaunt their purist tastes, the more they seem the sort of hermetic snobs the Waters of old would have skewered with a tripod. C+