Dirty Shame, A (2005) **1/2
Written and directed by John Waters; photography, Steve Gainer; editing, Jeffrey Wolf; music, George S. Clinton; production design, Vincent Peranio; produced by Christine Vachon and Ted Hope. A Fine Line release. 89 minutes. Rated NC-17. Cast: Tracey Ullman (Sylvia Stickles), Johnny Knoxville (Ray-Ray Perkins), Selma Blair (Caprice Stickles), Chris Isaak (Vaughn Stickles), Suzanne Shepherd (Big Ethel), Mink Stole (Marge the Neuter), Patricia Hearst (Paige) and Jackie Hoffman (Dora).
Caveat emptor. My rating is a median for reviews ranging from 1 to 3.5 stars -which, I guess, will be also those of non-professional viewers. Except for those movie aficionados of any age, the followers of writer/director John Waters are now middle-aged. Waters, who has made almost all his movies in his native Baltimore, began flourishing in the 1970s as a king of bad taste --but not bad films. His earlier works, often starring his former schoolmate Divine -a 300-pound transvestite-brought him fame, beginning with the 1973 "Pink Flamingos," and going on to "Polyester, "Hairspray" and such.
Waters, who declares himself "100% gay," is nice, likeable, clever and a true maverick. Not for all tastes however. If you want a gradual introduction to his works, try starting with his "Serial Mom" (1994) starring Kathleen Turner in a relatively atypical feature , a major howl that's among the funniest ever made.
Just before "A Dirty Shame," his "Cecil B. Demented" (2000, with Melanie Griffith) was a fiasco. But now Waters redeems himself with his NC-17 feature. It is a fast-moving, original work with a crazy plot. In a mid-level working class neighborhood of Baltimore pro-sex and anti-sex groups are opposing corners of the spectrum. Sylvia (Tracy Ullman now in her mid-40s) does not satisfy sexually her husband Vaughn. Their daughter Caprice (Selma Blair) is an exhibitionist stripper who's had her breasts so enlarged that they're like weather balloons. (Her nom-de-striptease is Ursula Udders, a name parody of the super-sexy Ursula Andress, that James Bond gal nicknamed by the public as Ursula Undress) The couple now keep her locked up at home.
Big Ethel--Sylvia's mother-runs a convenience store and is, embattled against the local profusion -in any shape or form--of sex locally. She appreciates her daughter "a good girl who hates sex." Little does she know. Sylvia, gets out of a car accident where she was banged on the head, something that transforms her into a raving sex maniac.
So too is Ray-Ray, a maniacally pro-sex fellow, a tow-truck driver who leads (and recruits) pro-sex types. The latter come in a plethora of versions. Their ranks are enriched by people who become true believers, sex-addicts after bumping their heads. And many others (in the puritan, anti-sex crowd) follow suit.
This is as far as I will go with the story. It is very funny, most inventive, extends to provocative music and dance --see the version of "Hokey Pokey" in a retirement home!!! See the hysterical (in both senses) gags. Note the inventive language, the use of older footage on nudism, the sex feats, the invented vocabulary, etc.etc.etc.
It is a howl, but circa its last third or so the movie gets repetitious and even a bit boring. I could not notice reactions by the viewers since, at the early projection I attended, there were hardly any. That "déjà vu" keeps the film from getting three stars.