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Movies

Review: Graphic shots abound, but 'Pecker' is more shtick than sick

Web posted on: Tuesday, September 29, 1998 12:16:18 PM

From Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- The only problem I have with John Waters' shtick is that it's 100 percent nothing but shtick.

The Crown Prince of gross-out humor, Waters started out as a goofy creep from Baltimore with a movie camera who loaded and pointed the camera at other goofy creeps from Baltimore. In the beginning, the palpable shock of his excrement and sick-sex loaded comedies stemmed from the fact that they truly were shocking. The first time you see Divine eating actual dog droppings in "Pink Flamingos," you can't really believe you're looking at it. The intercourse with a chicken scene sorta sticks with you, too. Unfortunately.

In case you haven't been looking, society has gotten a helluva lot more permissive since 1972 -- graphic sex with the president sorta sticks with you, too, whether there's a chicken involved or not -- and Waters has since moved into the mainstream of popular culture. So you just have to wonder what the point is anymore.

Theatrical preview for "Pecker"

Windows Media: 28k or 56k
Real: 28k or 56k

Clip: "The Jackson family"

Video clip: 2Mb QuickTime

Back in his salad days, nobody cared if his actors' performances were abysmal, the camera work crude, and the plot virtually nonexistent. What Waters was doing wasn't directing in the traditional sense. All he was doing was directing our attention towards things that we never imagined we wanted to see.

Elevated status, without technical merit

By now, though, he's called "a director," as in a filmmaker, and maybe substantial technical progress would be nice if we're going to bestow him with the title.

No dice, though. Now we get "Pecker," his 13th movie, and it's painfully apparent that Waters' luck as anything but a wittily subversive talk show guest ran out right around the time of "Hairspray," which, if you can imagine, is the most ambitious film he's ever made. I'm not asking for "Lawrence of Arabia" here, and I understand the game perfectly, but the sniggering title alone clues you in to the cutesy-fart tone of "Pecker." Oh, to be 14 years old again.

Waters gets a lot of credit for showing real affection for the lower-class shmoes he's always lampooning. If I want huggy affection, though, I'll call Andy Griffith. The genial spirit is hardly enough to warrant the waste of good film and money that it takes to put one of these things together.

"Pecker" is little more than a shopping list of naughty words and images that Waters felt would trigger knowing chuckles amongst the enlightened, that is, the other-mocking intellectual crowd that he supposedly isn't a part of because he still lives in Baltimore. Funny, though, how every time you see a picture of him, he's at a cocktail party being covered by Interview magazine.

Aggravating abundance of easy gags

There's basically nothing going on in "Pecker" that you couldn't get in an episode of "Roseanne," except for shots of rats having sex, close-ups of pubic hair, and male strippers dangling their testicles against a bald club patron's head. That last act is called "tea-bagging" by one of the characters, which is almost funny. I sure hope I haven't ruined anything for you. The abundance of easy gags (and, no, they don't actually make you gag anymore) is aggravating enough, but the endless repetition of individual, none-too amusing jokes quickly started to give me a headache.

What's it about? Oh, it's about 90 minutes long. Edward Furlong stars as Pecker, a kid in Baltimore who scores big when a New York City gallery proprietor (Lili Taylor) sees his Diane Arbus-like photos of all the good, honest, lovable, grotesque folks in low-rent Baltimore.

Pecker has a girlfriend (the surprisingly awful Christina Ricci) who runs a Laundromat and complains of machine abuse by her customers. His mom and dad (Mom is played by Mary Kay Place) run a bar and a thrift shop, respectively, and his sister (Martha Plimpton, and where's she been?) works at a gay strip club called the Fudge Palace. Har-har.

There's also a Grandma (Jean Schertler) who has a Virgin Mary ventriloquist dummy that she claims is miraculously talking, even though Grandma's obviously the one who's saying everything. Waters displays a lot of obvious affection for old ladies with Virgin Mary ventriloquist dummies.

The only amusing character is a sugar-addicted kid sister named Little Chrissy (Lauren Hulsey), but, my God, let's throw in about 25 different shots of the kid gorging on candy bars, Jolt cola, and bags of sugar, why don't we? Pecker ends up becoming a big star in New York, and this wreaks havoc on the folks in his honest, hard-working, bad-taste-wallowing hometown.

And there's a bunch of supposedly offensive jokes. The end.


"Pecker"'s purpose is to be of questionable taste, so your open-mindedness will be tested if you don't get out of the house all that much. Raunchy language and visuals. Full-frontal female nudity. Don't bother. Rated R. 84 minutes.

Fine Line Features, a Time Warner property, is a sister company to CNN Interactive.

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