South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut

In a comedy, a good strong beginning can win over the audience and make up for some flab in the middle, and South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut boasts perhaps the most uproarious first reel in recent memory. Our heroes, Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny, have nabbed tickets to a hot Canadian film — Terrance and Phillip in Asses of Fire. As Terrance and Phillip cavort around, farting copiously and blurting out words they can’t say on TV, and then as the boys leave the theater blurting out words they can’t say on Comedy Central, the audience laughter is like a wall of sound. It’s as if we were at a rock concert, with every “suck my balls, you pigfuckin’ son of a bitch” rolling out like a killer drum solo; it’s electrifying. We’ve heard the boys talk R-rated trash before, in the South Park precursor “The Spirit of Christmas,” but what’s fresh about it here is the delirious sense of discovery, the long-forgotten thrill of kids learning forbidden words and eagerly parroting them again and again. Among other things, the South Park movie restores the happy shock and exuberance of talking dirty.

The creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone (Parker directed, he and Stone wrote the script with the show’s creative producer Pam Brady), are accomplished parodists and satirists. (Which are two different things. Some can do parody and some can do satire, but very few can do both, and do them well.) Some have said the show has lost steam lately, and the pair’s appearance in the poorly received BASEketball didn’t help their case, but this riotous and gleefully offensive outrage should put them right back on top. The movie is a gigantic joke on its audience and on itself; the audience in the film, watching the crudely animated Asses of Fire, is not terribly different from us. The film actually works on several levels, which Beavis & Butt-Head Do America didn’t, as rudely funny as it was. Parker and Stone butcher all past critics of the show and any future critics of the movie; arriving as it does like a fart at the somber post-Columbine funeral, it’s a sharp slap of common sense.

When the boys go off spouting the wondrous new phrases they’ve learned, their mothers react with predictable horror. The villain of this piece isn’t Satan or Saddam Hussein (both of whom appear, spooning in Hell, awaiting their chance to take over the world); it’s Sheila Broflovski, Kyle’s easily offended mom (“WhawhaWHAAT?”), who spearheads an assault on Terrance and Phillip’s homeland of Canada. In outline, the movie may seem like a feature-length reworking of the South Park episode “Death,” wherein Kyle’s mom took on the network showing T & P cartoons (and the network exec, in answer to parental protests, uttered the classic line “You can direct your complaints to that brick wall over there”). But in form it’s also a subversive skewering of the MPAA, which finally gave this movie an R rating (it had to be trimmed to avoid an NC-17) despite several mean and very funny shots at them. What good, for instance, is a ratings system that can be so easily circumvented by quick-thinking kids? Indeed, sitting in the audience at South Park, you may spot some kids who (as Parker and Stone pointed out in a recent appearance on The Tonight Show) bought a ticket to Wild Wild West and snuck into South Park, or just kids whose parents were lazy or imbecilic enough to bring them.

Well, if those parents are faced with post-movie questions about “donkey-raping shit-eaters” or clitorises, they deserve it. South Park the show is not for kids, and South Park the movie is not even for a lot of adults. There’s one cannon-fodder joke so stunningly cynical that many in the audience will be too uncomfortable to laugh; yet the joke cuts to the quick and makes its point more vividly than any op-ed column could. Some will regret the usual Parker-Stone frat-boy homophobia, represented here by dragging Big Gay Al onstage for a few queeny minutes, and I wanted a little less of the Satan-Saddam romance (Saddam is a threadbare target by now anyway), which weighs down the film’s midsection and has the unappetizing side effect of equating homosexuality with evil. You don’t have to be politically correct to question why, in 1999, gay men are still used so lazily as foils for humor, and that laziness, more than anything else, is what bothered me; Parker and Stone are smarter than that. They can get along just fine without having to resort to “Let’s laugh at the swishy fag” — and Big Gay Al’s big gay musical number isn’t all that funny anyway.

The movie also threatens to take a turn toward self-important martyrdom: Terrance and Phillip are scheduled to be executed — the way Parker and Stone expect to be crucified for their offenses to good taste? — and the blood they shed will unleash the hounds of chaos. “You brought enough intolerance into the world for me to take over,” Saddam editorializes, as if a boycott of South Park might mean a domino effect of shattered freedom everywhere. Parker and Stone sometimes get too self-congratulatory about their opposition to cultural fascism; even the best satirists can get caught up in preaching to the choir. A completely ballsy South Park movie might have skewered its own merchandising machine and openly questioned why the movie exists in the first place (answer: because Warner and Paramount want to make money). Why not put some satirical screws to the studio that releases Asses of Fire and then hides behind lofty rhetoric to defend songs like “Uncle Fucka”? The satire here, while 95% hilarious and dead-on, can also be awfully one-sided.

Aside from these flaws, which I would only notice and point out in a movie that is otherwise as incisive as a razor, South Park consistently hits its targets and our funnybone. With the help of veteran composer Marc Shaiman (past purveyor of musical schmaltz for such weepies as Patch Adams, Shaiman must have spent some time wondering how he ever got involved in this project), Parker crafts no less than 14 show-stopping musical numbers, which usually have wicked fun with some form of kiddie music. Mr. Mackie’s instructional ditty “It’s Easy, MmmKay,” for instance, sounds to these ears like a roughhouse goof on Schoolhouse Rock (I hear a bit of Sesame Street and Electric Company in it as well), and Satan’s big stirring anthem “Up There” is a pitch-perfect gutting of the typical Oscar-winning Disney song. Then there’s the “international” version of Cartman’s barnstorming “Kyle’s Mom’s a Bitch,” which must be seen and heard to be believed; all that’s missing is a follow-the-bouncing-ball sing-along.

The thoroughgoing filthiness of South Park can be a cleansing experience. As a society, we’ve gotten too damn self-righteous lately, acting as moral cops for other countries and our own citizens; Trey Parker and Matt Stone are saying, “Fuck that — all of us are fucked up; we’ve always been fucked up, we always will be fucked up.” Which is a nihilistic worldview but not necessarily a false one — Jonathan Swift got a lot of mileage out of it, and people considered him crass and offensive, too. God only knows what the Sheila Broflovskis of America would make of him, if they actually picked up a book.

Explore posts in the same categories: animation, based on tv show, comedy, musical, one of the year's best, satire

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