Writer and director John Waters (“Hairspray”), the
master of the gross-out comedy, is back with a new entry in the
genre, “A Dirty Shame.” Waters’s usually adroit
ability to push the bounds of humor within the confines of a
tightly crafted plot is nowhere to be found in this deeply flawed
“A Dirty Shame” has all the ribald puns and
disgusting sight gags that are the hallmarks of a Waters film, but
they continuously fall flat. The film will probably make the
audience queasy at times, but there isn’t enough humor to
counteract the nausea.
Sylvia Stickles (Tracy Ullman, TV’s “The Tracy
Ullman Show”) is a Baltimore woman with a typical litany of
suburban complaints — dreary housework, a self-absorbed
husband, prying neighbors — and one rather atypical problem.
Stickles’s daughter is a sex-crazed stripper who goes by the
nom de guerre Ursula Udders (Selma Blair, “Legally
Blonde”). Sylvia is transformed after a chance meeting with
Ray Ray (Johnny Knoxville, “Jackass: The Movie”), a
full-service repairman who gives her a libidinous lease on life.
Sylvia proceeds to cavort with her lascivious neighbors, and
Harford Road is mutated into a pleasure dome of carnal carnivals.
Stickles’s mother forms a rival faction known as the Neuters
and they quickly launch a movement to stop the outbreak of
The film depends on tortured plot techniques to advance the
action. The characters shift between bouts of lustfulness and
chastity when they suffer head injuries. This would be a forgivable
omission if “A Dirty Shame” featured the rapid-fire
witticisms that Waters usually dollops throughout his screenplays.
Waters is content to substitute lifeless lines like Ray Ray’s
favorite imperative, “Let’s go sexing,” for droll
quips. After watching men straddling jack hammers and trash cans,
few laughs can be found when Waters depicts a man straddling a
— get this! — wheel chair. The cast of “A Dirty
Shame” delivers its material without zest and fails to liven
up the film. While Waters can usually be counted on to deliver
outrageous and visually stimulating sets and costumes, “A
Dirty Shame” even disappoints on this front.
Perhaps the most troubled aspect of the film is the inability of
Waters to generate much interest in his characters. The Neuters and
their sex-crazed rivals are more annoying than intriguing. Both
factions are close-minded and attempt to push their ideals on
others. The Neuters parade through the streets of Baltimore with
signs proclaiming “Down with Diversity” and “No
More Tolerance.” Ray Ray and Sylvia’s band of
libertines perform their most provocative deeds in the lawns of
their neighbors and turn life on Harford Road into a Roman holiday.
Beneath the sex jokes, the characters are a collection of brutal,
bullying figures. Unlike “Hairspray,” which forced the
viewer to pick sides and become emotionally invested in a zany
struggle against prejudice, “A Dirty Shame” leaves the
audience hoping that the squabbling will come to an end and the
adventures on Harford Road will mercifully disappear from the
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars