A Dirty Shame

on September 17, 2004 by Michael Tunison
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Veteran indie film provocateur and perpetual adolescent John Waters long ago showed us a road to humor paved by unpardonably bad taste, and "A Dirty Shame" finds the writer-director in typical trashy form. Is it raunchy good fun or an imminent threat to society's moral fabric? As with the movie's gleefully perverted heroes, it all depends on what floats your boat, baby.

This particular dive into outrageous Waters follows the amorous adventures of ordinary convenience store owner Sylvia Stickles (supremely adaptable British comedy institution Tracey Ullman) after a freak head injury and encounter with the mystically sexual-healing tow truck driver Ray-Ray (the truly devilish Johnny Knoxville from "Jackass") crank up her libido to previously unimaginable levels of carnal desire. Before you can say "rated NC-17," Sylvia's conversion to the ranks of the neighborhood's "sex addicts" triggers an all-out war with the local defenders of decency--the proudly self-proclaimed "Neuters." Can sexual normalcy be restored, or will the entire town slip into the blasphemous deviancy the messiah-like Ray-Ray preaches?

As with his similarly set-up previous romp, 2000's "Cecil B. DeMented," Waters is perfectly in his element portraying a happy band of rebels whose unorthodox passions severely strain the tolerance of mainstream society. While the particular fetishes represented (dirt-eating, adults in toddler clothes, a clan of bearded gay "bears") appear designed to put off vast audience demographics, there's also an inherent "Wizard of Oz"-like sweetness to Waters' world that makes even the naughtiest shock bits seem harmless.

Much of the fun comes from the charismatically clowning cast, including singer/actor Chris Isaak as Silvia's hapless husband, Waters regular Mink Stole as a crusading Neuter activist, and "Hellboy's" Selma Blair adorned by what may be the largest prosthetic breasts ever captured on film. Their collective shenanigans help ensure that the flick will only offend... er, most of humanity? Starring Tracey Ullman, Johnny Knoxville, Selma Blair, Chris Isaak, Suzanne Shepherd, Mink Stole, Patricia Hearst and Jackie Hoffman. Directed and written by John Waters. Produced by Christine Vachon and Ted Hope. A Fine Line release. Comedy. Rated NC-17 for pervasive sexual content. Running time: 88 min

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