South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
First screened in July 1999 / Most recently screened in January 2018
Director: Trey Parker. Animated. Voice Cast: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Mary Kay Bergman, Mike Judge, Isaac Hayes, George Clooney, Minnie Driver, Dave Foley, Eric Idle. Screenplay: Trey Parker & Matt Stone and Pam Brady (based on the television cartoon series created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone).

Twitter Capsule: Each time, I get really excited by the first half-hour—and then, what's left sags and rankles.

VOR:   Granted, a lot of it's the show's schtick, expanded—but it resonates differently in a huge audience, raising the bar for animation, comedy, and musicals on screen.

Photo © 1999 Paramount Pictures/Warner Bros. Entertainment
South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut is a film as blatantly crude and as self-satisfied in its vulgarity as its already-infamous title. The film is extravagantly raunchy, furiously rushing in its hour and twenty minutes to outrage, disgust, and astonish every member of its audience, and it is hard not to like a picture so eager to entertain. Perhaps the most astounding feature of the South Park film, however, is its willingness to use wit—that forsaken commodity of 1990s film comedy—as its principal tool in showing the audience a good if impossibly foul-mouthed time. Derived from a comedy series deemed by most industry wags to have reached the end of its fifteen minutes, South Park offers the highest laugh-to-minute ratio of any film in recent memory. While I am not sure that the film's success, so far more critical than commercial, means that creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone should be thinking "franchise," I was pleasantly surprised by the relentless but rich comedy they mine from terrain that critics accused them of having exhausted.

South Park begins with, of all things, a musical number, in which the petite, round, saucer-eyed stars put over a glowing hymn to their small, mountainside town. No one who has ever seen the show can possibly believe that South Park the movie will continue in this It Takes a Village-style vein, but neither are we prepared for exactly how quick and clever is the film's shift—or perhaps its tailspin—into gleeful depravity. Cartman, Kenny, and the rest of the South Park gang attend a matinée at the local movie theater. The crude animation, interchangeable characters, and bountiful obscenities of the film they see identify it unmistakably with what else but South Park itself. The kids titter and quake in the audience until they explode out of the theater, cusses gushing from their O-shaped mouths, with a whole new tune to warble about people who engage in rather close relationships with their uncles. The plot moves forward as the toddlers' mothers, enraged at the impression made on their children by the smutty cartoon feature, enact a military bombardment of Canada in retribution for having produced the offending 'toon.

From this point on, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut remains consistent in its tone. That euphoria of unprecedented indecency extends to visions (and I do mean visions) of Satan and Saddam Hussein as sodomitical lovers; bilious exclamations of babies who survived abortion; and equal-opportunity slurs against nearly every racial, national, sexual, and demographic group. Equally consistent, however, is the film's self-reflexive themes of how visual entertainment can lead to moral and behavioral decay, but also how such entertainment often gets scapegoated by parents and leaders who are either too neglectful or, more interestingly, too despotically controlling of children's lives and activities.

Frankly, South Park, judging by the extremity of its language and images, cannot absolve itself of accusations that its comic excesses are, indeed, excessive, particularly since both the show and the movie are consistently marketed to teenagers, with an obvious but unstated eye on younger kids than that. The R-rated film does a fine job of proving as reductive and shallow the familiar arguments that movies or television shows can be held directly responsible for the collapse of civic decorum. At the same time, one is hard-pressed to imagine the necessity of a film that rages so bullishly through every possible gate of politeness, enlightened attitudes, and good taste. As a movie entirely dependent on timely shock value and topical gags to score its points, South Park will also face considerable odds to seem as fresh or as inspired even a year from now as it does this summer.

All the same, the points it does scored in the here and now through its shocks and sight-gags are impressively big—and many of them are hardly lacking for political savvy or cultural weight. For example, a running gag about black soldiers' dismay at being shuttled to the front lines of battle before their white colleagues constitutes a sharp-minded jab at racist military strategizing. Many of Bigger, Longer, & Uncut's punchlines are in decrepit bad taste, but only a few (like an image of Gandhi as a floating soul in Hell) lack any redeeming cleverness. In one of the queasiest but most hilarious sidelines, one of the boys—even now, it is hard to keep them all straight—finds that his mother may or may not be moonlighting in German pornographic films. The video clip that ignites the boy's suspicion is unlike anything I ever thought I'd see in an animated feature, but the joke smartly expands, however crudely and hyperbolically, from every child's tentative realization that their parents have lives wholly separate from their roles as mothers and fathers.

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut defies most other TV-to-film transfers by fashioning a story, a theme, and a whole range of jokes that actually do make the movie something heftier, deeper, and more entertaining than the original series. If I cannot champion the film more highly, my reservations are only that Trey Parker and Matt Stone have done as grand a job as possible with material that in the final tally may not deserve their energy and innovation. Nevertheless, they have at least succeeded in filming what the Farrelly brothers failed to achieve with all their crotch humor and cum shots last summer in the tedious There's Something About Mary. Unlike that film, South Park finds jokes where you cannot possibly expect them, leavening the grossness not with a brain-dead love story but with a spirited, self-glorifying, but just-smart-enough meditation on its own prurience. Grade: B–

Academy Award Nominations:
Best Original Song: "Blame Canada"

Other Awards:
New York Film Critics Circle: Best Animated Feature
Los Angeles Film Critics Association: Best Music (Trey Parker & Marc Shaiman)

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