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    A Dirty Shame

    Dirty, yes; shame, yes

    John Waters recycles his own schtick with "A Dirty Shame," whose shock mentality grows less shocking as trash goes more mainstream.


    If you're watching a movie with a tree's pulsating butthole flexing onscreen, and then the camera cuts to two bushes having sex and you think, "Ho hum," and check your watch, then the movie you're watching has some serious problems. That's how I knew that "A Dirty Shame" was in trouble.

    Written and directed by: John Waters.
    Cast: Tracey Ullman, Johnny Knoxville, Selma Blair, Chris Isaak, Mink Stole, Patricia Hearst.
    Cinematography: Steve Gainer.
    Edited by: Jeffrey Wolf.

    Related links: Official site
    It probably goes without mentioning that the director of "A Dirty Shame" is John Waters (after all, not since "ET" have the phrase "pulsating butthole" and Steven Spielberg been mentioned in the same sentence). For those who've been holding out hope that Waters has one more great movie in him, "A Dirty Shame" is a lot like getting to the Promised Land after forty years in the desert and having Moses turn around and say, "Just three hundred more miles." One feels betrayed, disappointed, and disproportionately let down. John Waters has made some of the funniest movies in modern cinema, but the last movie he made was "Serial Mom" — since then he hasn't been making movies, he's been making John Waters movies. John Waters movies have EZ pitch, gross-out komedy koncepts, nearly-identical structures (there's always a scene where the square is introduced to a gallery of freaks; there's lots of cutaway humor), and they all indicate broadly that they are funny and shocking John Waters movies, rather than just being funny and shocking movies by a guy named John Waters.

    A Dirty Shame  
    Sylvia Stickles (Tracey Ullman) is a repressed, suburban Baltimorean who runs the local Park and Pay with her horny husband, Vaughn (Chris Isaak), while keeping her stripper daughter, Caprice (Selma Blair), locked in her room to comply with the conditions of her parole. A blow to the head turns the stuck-up Sylvia into a sex addict via a found footage sequence, and she's welcomed into a cult of local hump junkies headed up by the messianic Ray-Ray (Johnny Knoxville from MTV's "Jackass"), radiating hard charisma. Ray-Ray and followers have been waiting for their twelfth member, Sylvia, who they believe will show them a brand new sex act. Sylvia's mother, Big Ethel (Suzanne Shepherd, in the film's funniest performance), starts a decency brigade (with the help of Waters stalwart Mink Stole) and the movie expands to take in CGI-generated squirrels doing it doggie-style, self-help meetings for sex addicts, multiple blows to the head, every slang term for sexual congress known to man, a brief cameo by Waters' much-loved enormous star Jean Hill, and a final "Night of the Living Dead"-style blowout as sex addicts run rampant across the lawns and morals of ordinary, sex-hating Baltimoreans.

      A Dirty Shame
    And yet it all adds up to a pretty empty experience. There is a 25-minute sequence at the beginning of the film that's as funny as anything Waters has ever directed, but it's overwhelmed by the banality of the other two-thirds of the movie. A movie that features screwing squirrels is banal? Unfortunately, yes. Waters' brand of poo jokes, as subversively tacky as they once were, have gone mainstream. Tracey Ullman seems game for anything, and is fun to watch, but it's Johnny Knoxville who steals the show with his tiny splinter of screen time. Unfortunately, his presence is a living rebuke to the kind of gags Waters is trying to provoke his audience with. What has Waters done that Knoxville hasn't done ten times worse, and on TV? It's ideas that are shocking these days, not scatology. Unfortunately, Waters hasn't figured that out and he keeps on hitting the same old buttons, over and over again. Sadly, for the human race, these buttons grew calluses a long time ago.

    Waters fans keep hoping for a return of their king. But this isn't it. This is just a downright shame. A dirty shame? Yes — but does that really matter anymore?

    SEPTEMBER 24, 2004

    Reader comments on A Dirty Shame:

  • crapest piece of crap ever!   from melanie, Oct 2, 2004
  • Re: crapest piece of crap ever!   from Drunk On a Bike, Nov 25, 2004
  • [no subject]   from , Dec 18, 2004
  • HIGHLARIOS!!!!!!!!!!!!   from Jaaribear, Oct 20, 2005
  • I agree, so funny   from raci, Nov 27, 2006
  • a crying shame   from Traci, Nov 27, 2006
  • WOW   from jamie, Jan 28, 2007

  • Post a comment on "A Dirty Shame"