By Susannah Breslin | May 5, 2001

Every so often a great movie comes along that does what all the best movies do: remind you that most movies are s**t. Director/Writer John Waters latest contribution to this rare happening is Cecil B. DeMented, a film that brilliantly and hilariously dissects this very subject while savagely reminding us just how tolerant we are of Hollywood’s mostly lousy, unchallenging filmmaking. Relentlessly mocking the credo of the Hollywood industry as it makes political and spiritual martyrs out of filmmakers who dare to the death to be different, Cecil B. DeMented is one of this year’s stand-out films not to be missed by anyone who claims to give a rat’s a*s about cinema.
Waters, who gave birth to on-camera fecal feeding and the strange enigma of Divine with the likes of Pink Flamingos and Polyester, here continues in the vein of his slightly more palatable but no less provocative more recent films, i.e. Serial Mom and P****r. Channeling his own bold, silly, and strange cinematic sensibility into the specter of Sinclair Stevens (Stephen Dorff), Waters’ follows Sinclair’s filmmaking exploits as the movie theater manager by day turned guerrilla movie-maker by night sets out to make the “ultimate reality” uber-indie film, Raving Beauty. With the release of Hollywood’s latest pile of cow dung, a sap movie called Some Kind of Happiness, its superstar Honey Whitlock (Melanie Griffith) is coming to Baltimore for the big premiere, sporting a diva’s attitude bigger than Mariah’s implants, and thanks to DeMented is in for a big surprise.
Vowing to wage war against bad moviemaking everywhere, the wacky and wild-haired DeMented leads his merry band of so-named Sprocket Holes crew into war and film as they pick up the machine guns and hand grenades and cameras, kidnap Whitlock out of the premiere while proclaiming the power of indie-ites everywhere, and start making the take no prisoners or bullshit Raving Beauty. Whitlock’s initially none too happy to be held hostage in an abandoned old movie theater (no doubt put out of business by too many multiplexes) with bad hair and no craft services among her tortures, but she eventually comes around to not just performing bravely in the midst of bloody moviemaking raids, but starts realizing she might be better off hating Hollywood too.
The also-armed that make up the Sprockets, who all bear tattoos of moviemaker idols like David Lynch and Kenneth Anger, include the ex-anal porn star actress Cherish (Alicia Witt), the drug-obsessed freak male lead Lyle (Adrian Grenier), the soul-singing-rapper soundwoman Chardonnay (Zenzele Uzoma), the chronically masturbating wardrobe guy Fidget (Eric M. Barry), and the devil-worshipping makeup girl Raven (Maggie Gyllenhaal). As Honey’s former enslaved assistant Libby (Ricki Lake) and ex-husband (Eric Roberts) start dissing her to the press, Honey ends up manifesting her own superhero acting powers from the confines of her handcuffs amidst captors inspired by their commitment to no f***ing until the movie’s done.
From assaulting the Maryland Film Commission to invading the set of a Forrest Gump sequel (Gump Again), DeMented and Honey garner public support from action-genre junkies to self-pleasuring porn-lovers as they shoot. Since DeMented and his Sprockets are willing to die–literally–for great film, some of them bite the dust along the way, but in true Waters form, it’s all in good fun. Waters has referred to Cecil B. DeMented as “Die Hard for the Hollywood impaired,” meaning this Waters film contains more bang–from folks on fire to urban shoot-outs–but maintains its witty self-awareness. The chants of “Hey, hey, MPAA, how many movies did you censor today?”, Lyle offering Honey crack while explaining his drug-addiction allows him to finally focus, DeMented’s lambasting of Hollywood for co-opting sex and violence and therefore leaving nothing for the likes of him, all speed Cecil B. DeMented on to poking relentless fun at film while brilliantly succeeding at it.
Griffith (Working Girl, Lolita) is great as Honey, and deserves major kudos for having the cojones to take on such an oddly marvelous part. Dorff (Blade, I Shot Andy Warhol) is funnily charismatic, with Witt (Dune, Four Rooms) running a close second at capturing the kind of self-mocking performances Waters’ movies wear so well. All the Sprockets are perfectly cast, including the bearded lady, and special appearances feature Patricia Hearst who knows something about kidnapping herself, Waters’ regular Mink Stole, and Kevin Nealon (Little Nicky, SNL) as the epitome of mainstream milquetoast. Costume Designer Van Smith expertly manifests the characters’ outer-mentalities here through the freaky fashions, and Waters’ collaboration with several Baltimorian rappers on the hysterical “No Budget” and “Bankable Bitch” singles fit dead-on.
Cecil B. DeMented is not to be missed, one of the year’s best, a whole lotta laughs, and 4-stars all rolled into one. It’s also a litmus test for moviegoers everywhere, so if you don’t like it, you’ll know, hey, you never really were a die-hard indie-movie-fanatic, were you?

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