John Waters, the former bad-boy director, was recently quoted as saying, “I would never cast Monica Lewinsky in anything. I’m interested in good bad taste, not bad bad taste.” It may, at long last, be time for this filmmaker to turn in his leopard-skin megaphone. I mean, doesn’t he realize that casting Monica Lewinsky would be in spectacular bad taste? Watching Pecker, his rickety new comedy about a teenage Baltimore shutterbug, it becomes clear that Waters has grown color-blind to his own sleazo-shock aesthetic. The trouble, I think, is that he now views it as nothing but an aesthetic–as Art.
Edward Furlong, who has the eyes of Pee-wee Herman and the personality of Matthew Perry, plays the title character, whose photographs of Baltimore lowlife (crotch-flashing lesbian strippers, etc.) land him a show at a Manhattan gallery. But New York turns out to be full of phonies, and even the subjects of Pecker’s photos rebel against him. Waters, replaying the arc of his own career, is being smugly disingenuous about why he was ever embraced. None of this would matter, of course, if Pecker were actually funny. Alas, it’s about as funny as leopard skin on a leopard.