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Film review: Cry-baby

Published: Tuesday, April 10 1990 12:00 a.m. MDT

Writer-director John Waters is the master of quirky cinema. He's also a true lover of flash, trash and pseudo-celebrity.

And he has a following, one that has stayed with him ever since his underground cult success with the likes of "Pink Flamingos" and "Female Trouble."

So it seems natural that in the early '80s Waters would decide to go mainstream and reach a larger audience. His first effort in that regard was "Polyester," a weird combination of modern suburbia and a '50s nightmare, starring his favorite leading man/woman Divine, along with Tab Hunter and an old-fashioned movie gimmick — "Odorama," in the form of scratch-and-sniff cards to be used at appropriate moments during the film.

This is John Waters' idea of mainstream? That was the common theme running through writeups of critics at the time. But the film did reach a wider audience — though it wasn't that much wider.

Waters' next film, however, was "Hair-spray," which really did push him into mainstream commercial success. It was a goofy musical spoof of the '50s, again with Divine and a bevy of strangely cast sub-celebrities, with then-unknown Ricki Lake, a delightful comic actress, in the lead.

Now Waters is back, once more drawing from the same well, with "Cry-Baby," hoping for even more commercial success this time by giving the lead to the teen heartthrob of the moment, Johnny Depp, of TV's "21 Jump Street."

But instead of building a complete movie story around Depp, Waters seems to have instead taken one "Hairspray" element, a skit revolving around "bad kids" vs. "good kids," if you will, and stretched it to feature-length by padding the film with redundant jokes.

Most of the songs are variations on the title and most of the gags revolve around the clash between those from the right and wrong side of the tracks in small-town Americana in the '50s.

Depp is the town's "bad boy," his family misunderstood by the "squares." He's naturally in love with the town's "good girl" (Amy Locane). And therein lies the conflict, complete with spoofery aimed at every '50s movie stereotype you can think of.

One joke that is quickly run into the ground is the ugliness of Amy McGuire's character, nicknamed "Hatchet-Face." The initial gag comes under the credits, then it is repeated endlessly until it's apparent Waters is desperate for humor long before the film is in its final act.

And the expected Waters penchant for media celebrities, past and present, pops up here and there with cameos by David Nelson, Patty Hearst, Joey Heatherton, Troy Donahue, Iggy Pop and even Willem Dafoe.

Also in the cast are former underage porn queen Traci Lords, perennial B-movie sleaze queen Susan Tyrrell, former leading lady Polly Bergen and the star of "Hairspray," Ricki Lake.

But none of these people do more than create arch caricatures, and after a while the entire conceit becomes tiresome.

"Cry-Baby" has a few bright spots here and there. Some of the musical numbers are fun and there are some good gags here and there, but for the most part this one is pretty weak.

It's rated PG-13 for comic violence, a few profanities and some vulgar jokes.

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