A DIRTY SHAME * 1/2
STARRING: Tracey Ullman, Selma Blair, Johnny Knoxville, Chris Isaak.
WRITER/DIRECTOR: John Waters
RUNNING TIME: 89 minutes
RATING: NC-17 for pervasive sexual content
THE LOWDOWN: A repressed wife and mother is turned into a sex addict by a hit on the head.
If you get whacked on the head in a soap opera, you could lose your memory. If you get whacked on the head in a John Waters movie -- better have a penicillin scrip handy.
That's because in the demented world of the pencil-mustachioed Waters, a blow to the head will make you a raging sex addict.
It happened to Baltimore wife and mother Syliva Stickler (Tracey Ullman) one day as she drove to her job at the convenience store she and her husband own. She got conked by a ladder, and next thing you know she's running around town with a coven of similarly voracious sex addicts led by Ray-Ray (Johnny Knoxville), a tattooed owner of a garage he uses for carnal group pleasures once night falls.
This is quite a departure for Sylvia. Formerly, she would fend off the daytime advances by her husband, Vaughn (Chris Isaak), protesting, "For god's sake, it's light outside!" It's hard for Sylvia to get in the mood -- she lives in a proper Baltimore suburb and, when she's not at the store, cooks and cares for their daughter, Caprice (Selma Blair), who's under house arrest.
Caprice, better known to her fans as Ursula Udders, is a go-go dancer and porn star who now wears an ankle monitor and lives locked up above the garage. Her claims to fame are enormous surgically enhanced breasts that gave me back problems just looking at them.
Syliva was once one of the normal folks in the neighborhood (Waters loves the concept of an old-fashioned know-your-neighbors 'hood), and now those people are carping about all the sex addicts that have infiltrated their decent town. There are even a set of bears (hairy gay men) living among them!
After hearing about a lewd party trick Sylvia has performed down at the retirement home, her mother, Big Ethel (Suzanne Shepherd), decides to lead the fight of the neuters vs. the sex addicts. Community meetings are held, signs are made, all while Sylvia prowls the neighborhood with her skirt over her head.
At a 12-step program for the afflicted and realizing she has hit bottom, Sylvia cries out, "I can't control my axis of evil!"
That's the best part of this cartoonishly perverse NC-17 movie -- Waters' creative, pop culture-referencing euphemisms for sex, sex acts and body parts. Most aren't printable, but most are very funny.
Giggling at naughty words -- that's all you're going to get out of "A Dirty Shame." The plot turns into a full-town chase, as the neuters try to get Sylvia the help she needs. At a brief 89 minutes, it's still far too long.
It's old-school, erotically twisted, kinky, trashy Waters. And, as gritty and gross as it gets, there's something harmless and fun about Waters' brand of raunch. It's just not worth getting upset about.
How seriously can you take a filmmaker who fills his movies with Patty Hearst and actors named Mink Stole, anyway?