Would that John Waters' films were as good as their titles these days! Like Pecker, his latest, Cecil B. Demented, takes a potentially fun concept and basically goes nowhere with it. Superstar mega-bitch Honey Whitlock (Melanie Griffith) is kidnapped by guerilla filmmaker Cecil (Stephen Dorff) and his gang of rebel auteurs with a cause, the Sprocket Holes. They brainwash her and proceed to make a film with her, Raving Beauty. Honey, betrayed by her personal assistant (Ricki Lake) and the Hollywood establishment, who trash her all over the media, becomes the ultimate muse of Outlaw Cinema.

The film starts very high with the kidnapping and sputters out from there. While you may applaud the film's basic message ('Death to Mainstream Cinema!'), Waters' eye seems targeted on the funky little detail rather than the more vital whole of plot and character. He's assembled a goon show of misfits, with names like Cherish (Alicia Witt), Chardonnay (Zenzele Uzoma) and Fidget (Eric M. Barry), but has given them little else to do than mug furiously. In his early years, with such heavy-duty presences as Divine and Edith Massey, he got away with this more efficaciously. They were so hilariously weird that all he had to do was aim the camera and let them rip. These callow kids simply try too hard to be eccentric.

Waters also seems to want it both ways here. While attacking Hollywood's endless, mindless penchant for chase scenes and violence, he has loaded his film with this very stuff to numbing effect. Set largely in Cecil's gaudy lair, the film has a darkly claustrophobic feel to it that is resolutely anti-fun. Griffith, always best in comedy, is initially dazzling as the most demanding of divas, complaining about having to make a personal appearance in Waters' beloved Baltimore ('If one more asshole mentions a crabcake, I'm gonna barf!'). However, once she undergoes her indie transformation, she reverts to the whiney persona 'Mad TV' recently lampooned so effectively. Dorff, who has always struck us as rather the poor man's Ethan Hawke, does a monotonous Angry Young Man turn.

--David Noh