At the center of "Lust in the Dust," Paul Bartel's broad spoof of B westerns, is Divine, an obese drag queen so freakish you expect him at any moment to begin biting the heads off live chickens. Instead, his Rosie rides a mule into a town called Chili Verde, trailing a laconic gunslinger named Abel Wood (Tab Hunter).
In the town's only tavern, they meet the busty bar queen, Margherita (Lainie Kazan), her sidekick, an old dwarf hooker named Big Ed (a humorous Nedra Volz), and the usual cast of tongue-lolling yo-yos. Having succumbed to the prominent charms of Margherita, Wood goes to confession, where a priest (Cesar Romero) tells him of the hidden treasure of Chili Verde. When rides into town Hardcase Williams (Geoffrey Lewis in a weak self-parody) and his gang, smelling gold.
What follows are plots, counterplots, shootouts, horse chases, some bitchy back-and-forth between She and It (which is funny), and many smutty double-entendres (which are not). "Lust in the Dust" is a movie of few laughs, all of them cheap. Divine tries to be coquettish through his 5 o'clock shadow. Divine bumps and grinds. Divine maims men in bed. This is funny?
Underlying this is a well-managed spoof of the camera style of the genre. Bartel shoots his movie with a nice sense of the rhythms of close-ups and a dead eye for the conventions of the B westerns he's sending up. But the intelligence behind "Lust in the Dust" only points up what a pointless exercise it is. And the movie misses Bartel's presence in front of the camera, the knock-kneed priggishness that goosed his "Eating Raoul" into high hilarity.
After "Eating Raoul," "Lust in the Dust" is a step backward for Bartel, a retreat from the world outside the screening room. The movie's supposed to be wacky, but the weirdest thing about it is why a talented satirist can't find anything to poke fun at besides old movies.
"Lust in the Dust," at area theaters, is rated R; it contains nudity, profanity, sexual situations and some violence.