Picks and Pans Review: Cry-Baby
Johnny Depp, Amy Locane
Director John Waters has always—in such films as Mondo Trasho, Female Trouble, Hairspray and Polyester—depended on the entertainment value of sheer outrageousness. This, however, is a story about a sweet high school girl who falls for a rock-and-rolling delinquent with a heart of gold and a jacket of black leather. There’s nothing outrageous (or funny) about it and anyway, Grease, with Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta, retired the trophy for this kind of thing back in 1978.
So Waters has to drum up bizarre business on the fringes of his plot. Young actress Kim McGuire, made up to look sickeningly ugly, keeps twisting her rubbery face in Buddy Hackett—like contortions.
Joey Heatherton, who seems positively haggard as a religious fanatic, is also part of a typically perverse Waters cast. A pair of impossibly square parents are played by David Nelson and Patty Hearst, who as an actress makes a pretty good bank robber. Punk rocker Iggy Pop is a cadaverous hillbilly. Former underage porn princess Traci Lords is cast unimaginatively as the school hussy. Susan Tyrrell (loudmouth slattern) and Polly Bergen (prissy society mom) are also stuck in uninspired roles.
Stephen Mailer, Norman’s son (an accomplished actor), is the nerdy type competing for Locane’s affections. Troy Donahue, Willem Dafoe and Ricki Lake are scattered around the scenery.
Depp, of 21 Jump Street, does a passable Elvis turn, and Locane, an 18-year-old soap opera vet, is routinely cute. Their performances are undercut by the fact that they lip-synch all their songs. While Rachel Sweet, who does Locane’s tunes, and James Intveld, who does Depp’s, are first-class singers, this sort of casting seems lazy, as if Waters couldn’t find someone who could both act and sing. (Intveld represents yet another oddity. His brother, Rick, was a drummer who died in the plane crash that killed David Nelson’s brother Rick.)
The best bit involves Depp lamenting the execution of his father, the “Alphabet Bomber.” “He may have been crazy, but he was my pop,” Depp says, explaining that Dad’s nickname came from his compulsion to blow places up in alphabetical order, starting with “airport.” Waters’s writing is woefully uneven. It’s as if Sam Kinison had decided to tell knock-knock jokes—sterile, unfunny knock-knock jokes at that. (PG-13)