With the exception of some hilariously and deliberately inept special effects involving Melanie Griffith's head, the title of Cecil B. Demented is about as funny as this John Waters misstep gets. The trouble isn't so much the writing -- although that's bad too -- as the incompatibility of the director's trash aesthetic with the film's fresh-faced young cast and relatively high production values. Hairspray and Pecker worked because they sublimated the director's trademark outrageousness to character and plot, but Cecil B. Demented tries vainly to recover the anti-establishment grotesquerie of his underground era. Neither the loathsomely self-indulgent Stephen Dorff nor the usually likable Alicia Witt has the chutzpah or the off-kilter glamour of a Divine or even a Ricki Lake -- not even Lake herself, who appears all too briefly as Hollywood shrew Honey Whitlock's hapless assistant. That leaves us with a group of unknowns whose gimmicky costumes, makeup, and characterizations seem like a pale imitation of the original Waters troupe. Griffith deserves all the kudos she received for tackling the decidedly low-rent, potentially self-parodic role of Honey Whitlock with something approaching comic proficiency, but the script's jabs at the Hollywood plutocracy seem tame in a media-saturated world where celebs regularly parody themselves on The Simpsons and The Larry Sanders Show. Film buffs will feel self-congratulatory each time they catch one of Cecil's references to esoteric art-house directors, but Waters would do better to emulate those cinematic masters than to pay them dubious homage with this half-hearted satire.
by Brian J. Dillard review