Long a critic of Hollywood decadence, John Waters has opined that no movie should last longer than 90 minutes. Can anybody explain how making only one film every four years is any more conscientious especially when the result is A Dirty Shame, notable for almost nothing save its obvious stab at the designation of Most Tiresome Waters Flick Ever?
Making 2000's sketchy but fun Cecil B. Demented look like a well-thought-out manifesto in comparison, Shame is a clunky medley of smutty episodes in the life of Baltimore housewife Sylvia Stickles (Tracey Ullman), a dowdy convenience-store doyenne with a nonexistent sex drive. A blow to the head, however, turns the normally straitlaced Sylvia into a rampaging cunnilingus addict one who may be highly valuable to a group of religiously fervid sex addicts (led by Johnny Knoxville) who are seeking their 12th "apostle."
If you chuckled at the use of the phrase "blow to the head" in the preceding paragraph, you're definitely the target audience for A Dirty Shame, which amounts to little more than a locker-room recitation of carnal euphemisms and supposedly bizarre practices. The goal appears to be comedic delirium via pure thematic overload, and once in a blue moon it works; far more often, the effect is tedious and numbing. As a screenwriter, Waters fails to exploit the contrast between Sylvia's prudish nature and her unleashed id. The gaps aren't filled in by Ullman, who treats both "roles" as platforms for similarly blunt mugging. (There was a reason we all forgave Melanie Griffith for being the weakest element of Demented: That was stunt casting. Ullman has no such excuse.) The best performance is Suzanne Shepherd's portrayal of Sylvia's mother, Big Ethel, an antisex crusader who decries the degeneration of their neighborhood with a wide-eyed hysteria that harkens back to the days when Waters knew the right way of going over the top.
A Dirty Shame follows the modus operandi of a sexagenarian newly converted to Viagra. That is, pound away unimaginatively until your audience passes out in fatigue (or boredom). Plus, there's an underlying irrelevance to the whole affair, a sense that its creator hasn't updated his standards of naughtiness in an alarming while. Yes, John, we know what a "shrimp job" is; you've been telling us for over 30 years.