Serial Mom (1994, John Waters)

Serial Mom gets a lot of mileage out of its concept–Kathleen Turner’s June Cleaver as a serial killer (actually, spree killer)–before it runs out of gas. Sadly, once it does, all of the plot problems become clear. But then Waters brings it to court and Mom is reinvigorated. Turner’s not special during the first hour or so, but she’s fantastic for the last third, when she’s defending herself in court.

Waters’s script seems incredibly fast and loose (like parent-teacher conferences being called a PTA meeting). For a while, he’s able to get away with it as he introduces all these annoying sitcom-esque characters for Turner to murder. Then he brings in two lengthy chase sequences back-to-back and it crumbles.

It doesn’t help the second one involves Justin Whalin, who’s simply awful in the movie. Waters can get away with a lot of goofy casting (Suzanne Somers, Traci Lords–Bess Armstrong’s in it way too little) but Whalin’s incompetent.

The supporting cast is good. Sam Waterston’s the hapless husband, (way too old for high school) Matthew Lillard is the teenage son, Ricki Lake’s the daughter with self-image problems. Lake’s performance is a tad broad, but she’s still rather likable.

Robert M. Stevens’s photography is good–he and Waters use a vibrant color scheme (Baltimore’s probably never looked so nice)–and Basil Poledouris’s score is fun.

Unfortunately, Waters’s closing gag ruins the film. He can’t seem to decide what he wants to do with it.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by John Waters; director of photography, Robert M. Stevens; edited by Janice Hampton and Erica Huggins; music by Basil Poledouris; production designer, Vincent Peranio; produced by John Fiedler and Mark Tarlov; released by Savoy Pictures.

Starring Kathleen Turner (Beverly R. Sutphin), Sam Waterston (Eugene Sutphin, D.D.S.), Ricki Lake (Misty Sutphin), Matthew Lillard (Chip Sutphin), Scott Morgan (Detective Pike), Walt MacPherson (Detective Gracey), Justin Whalin (Scotty Barnhill), Patricia Dunnock (Birdie), Lonnie Horsey (Carl Pageant), Mink Stole (Dottie Hinkle) and Mary Jo Catlett (Rosemary Ackerman).


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