A Dirty Shame

Amusing but forgettable little trifle from John Waters, who is clearly no longer the iconoclastic underground filmmaker he once was and has long since settled into his current role as avuncular campmeister.

The bare-bones plot: in a quiet Baltimore suburb, random locals are becoming rabid sex fiends after each receives an accidental blow to the head. What follows is a litany of sexual fetishes, some slightly gross, all depicted as fun, silly, and perfectly acceptable as long as it's between two consenting adults.

I think the old Waters wouldn't have bothered with that whole "consenting adults" clause, and that's the difference between his '70s films, which still have the power to shock and disgust, and his recent titles, which espouse a creaky liberalism that basically says "free-thinking, sexy people good; close-minded, prudish people bad." Well, duh. In fact, the film follows the same formula as Waters' previous Cecil B. DeMented, with a frigid middle-aged lady falling in with a charismatic rebel and and his gang of wacky acolytes – only here Waters substitutes kinky sex for Cecil's underground filmmaking milieu.

A Dirty Shame is more successful than Cecil only because its leads, Tracey Ullman and Johnny Knoxville, are far better at capturing the fever-pitch lunacy of classic Waters than Cecil's weak stars Melanie Griffith and Stephen Dorff. Ullman, Knoxville, and the rest of the cast are enjoyable to watch, but most of the film is been-there, done-that. I mean, I'm no great libertine, and even I had already heard of all the kooky fetishes that Waters trots out, as if showing us for the first time. And the politically correct asides actually dampen the fun. This is one NC-17 rating that doesn't feel earned.