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A Dirty Shame

(2004) *** Nc-17
89 min. Fine Line Features. Director: John Waters. Cast: David Hasselhoff, Tracey Ullman, Johnny Knoxville, Selma Blair, Mink Stole.

A Dirty Shame is the sort of suburban smutfest we've come to expect from John Waters. Though not as raw in style as his early comedies, like Pink Flamingos, A Dirty Shame—rated, somewhat churlishly by the MPAA, an NC-17—takes apart conservative middle-class society by opening the floodgates of sexual desire.

As in Serial Mom, a heroically counter-cultural middle-aged woman embraces her bad self. Here, it's Tracy Ullman as Sylvia Stickles, a frump who dutifully cooks scrapple (a fried slab of pork mush) for her husband in the morning, but sexually denies him. The Stickles have their daughter, whose gargantuan surgically enhanced breasts reflect her outsized libido, locked up, supposedly for her own good.

When Sylvia takes a blow to the head, she becomes a concussive sex addict. According to her awestruck disciple Ray-Ray (played by Johnny Knoxville), Sylvia is the Sexual Second Coming, here to rescue all of the closeted sex addicts in town by discovering a heretofore unknown sex act. It's a non-stop cavalcade of fetishes, novelty songs, and bawdy slang as Waters gleefully provokes Christian conservatives. Waters's story loses steam in its repetitive third act (and the climax, ironically, is a dud), but the director mostly just wants A Dirty Shame to be notorious and he succeeds in spades.

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