This story of the 1990 obscenity case over a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit nearly got an NC-17 rating, until the network cut the screen time for Mapplethorpe's haunting, sexually explicit photos. If only it had shown them longer--for 90 minutes, say--and ditched the rest of this mechanical, insultingly didactic placard. James Woods begins playing besieged Cincinnati museum director Dennis Barrie less as a saint than a fish-out-of-SoHo aesthete. But the nuance is soon lost in a film that wants to be an agitprop documentary, interrupting its storyline with interviews of mostly pro-Mapplethorpe notables. The film isn't obligated to be neutral, but it's so bullying and one-sided that a viewer feels guilty for agreeing with it. Defending an artist who preferred aesthetics to righteousness, Dirty Pictures sadly advances exactly the opposite.
--By James Poniewozik