Dir: John Waters. US. 2000. 88 mins.
Prod co: Polar Entertainment. Co prods: Le Studio Canal Plus, Bac Films. Domestic dist: Artisan. Int'l Sales: Le Studio Canal Plus (00 33 1 44 43 98 00). Exec prods: Anthony DeLorenzo, Fred Bernstein. Prods: John Fiedler, Joe Caracciolo Jr., Mark Tarlov. Scr: Waters. Dop: Robert Stevens. Prod des: Vincent Peranio. Ed: Jeffrey Wolf. Music: Zoe and Basil Poledouris. Main cast: Melanie Griffth, Stephen Dorff, Alicia Witt, Eric M Barry, Ricki Lake.
Cecil B Demented is not exactly the greatest story ever told. It sounds promising: a satire about the dismal state of mainstream Hollywood centred on a temperamental star (Griffith, in a gamely self-mocking performance) who is kidnapped by underground film-makers. But though there are many flashes of comic inspiration, it's a thin yarn (itself conventionally filmed, despite its subject) that won't do much to restore Waters' flagging reputation as one of America's most outrageous mavericks.
Reviewers are also likely to draw unfavourable comparisons with Bowfinger, which more inventively explored similar territory. A blitzkrieg campaign aimed at the director's cult following might yield decent returns on the strength of the droll premise before word gets out.
Set in Waters' native Baltimore, the story begins as ageing actress Honey Whitlock hits town for a charity premiere. All charm to the media, in private she's a spoiled diva who's constantly bitching about everything from the local hicks to the colour of her limo.
In a rip-roaring sequence, Cecil B (Dorff) and his band of terrorists raid the gala and whisk Honey back to their lair. Here she meets the motley crew, each member of which sports a tattoo of his or her fave director, and, after getting a punk makeover, starts work, kicking and screaming, on her first movie, a guerrilla attack on commercial cinema shot on locations ranging from a Film Commission junket to the set of another movie (a Forrest Gump sequel called Gump Again).
It's at this point that the film collapses into a tedious and repetitive series of comic-book violent scenes. The best jokes are in the details, like a series of mall multiplex marquees which boast of such mouth-watering delights as Patch Adams: The Director's Cut, Vertigo 2: The Remake and a Pauly Shore marathon.