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South Park: Bigger, Longer & Funnier

In the creatively bankrupt world of big-screen Hollywood, familiarity breeds big box office dreams. Which explains why so many tired and retired old TV series end up at the local multiplex. Much like the creatively bankrupt world of UPN, except that the weblet must rely on Love Boat: The Next Wave to generate advertising revenue.

But even celebrated TV shows can end up as so much cinematic junk. Witness "McHale's Navy," "The Flinstones," "Leave it to Beaver," "Dragnet," "The Mod Squad" and, last but certainly least, "The Avengers," one of the most obscenely horrific big screen blemishes of all time.

To be fair, there are some movies that make the leap look relatively easy, such as "Beavis and Butt-Head Do America," "The X-Files: Fight the Future," both Star Trek series and two sterling examples of filmmaking, "The Untouchables" and "The Fugitive."

Aside from the "X-Files" and the Next Generation batch of Star Treks, all these movies appeared well after their TV shows had disappeared from the boob tube. Now a third has joined that select company: "South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut."

For some critics, the release of the movie signals the downfall of the TV series. Comedy Central's ratings for the four most infamous animated eight-year olds in history are off 43 percent this year. But the show, and its 3-4 share, still qualifies as monster hit in cable TV terms, especially considering the second-highest rated show on the network, "The Daily Show," pulls around a 0.8 percentage.

But the past season or two of the television show has been marked by a somewhat precipitous drop in program quality. A die-hard fan could only hope that Trey Parker and Matt Stone were putting their creative efforts into something besides yet another T-shirt design.

I am happy to report that those hopes have been fully realized. "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut" is the most gut-bustingly hilarious movie since "There's Something About Mary."

The plot is, dare we say it, socially relevant and probably based largely on Parker and Stone's experiences during the early days of the TV show. Terrance and Phillip, the two biggest television stars in the South Park universe, release a movie that is shockingly profane and flatulent. Naturally, the four boys are dying to see the R-rated film and sneak in. Unfortunately, they decide to test out their new vocabulary at school the next day, leading President Clinton to declare war on Canada and leaving most, if not all, of the Baldwins dead.

Sure, that's a bit of a leap. But trust me, it works.

For those of you who are familiar with only Comedy Central's South Park and not the "Spirit of Christmas" animated short that gave birth to the series, you are in for a shock. It's one thing to hear Cartman and Co. launching an appropriately bleeped expletive every now and then on television. It's quite another to hear them spend the first fifteen minutes of the movie on a stream of epithets so emphatic they'd make the most potty-mouthed Hell's Angel blush.

Those fans who know and love the original tale of a kung-fu duel between Jesus and Santa Claus are nodding your heads right about now. But this film will surprise even you. "Bigger, Longer & Uncut" is "The Spirit of Christmas" on crack, and will make you wonder how you could have ever settled for the tame Comedy Central version the last couple years.

Much like the TV series, the movie makes a concerted effort to offend everyone in the known universe. This includes an abortion joke, a French kid who thinks God is a "bastard" and a liaison between the Prince of Darkness and an infamous Iraqi dictator that not only features some extremely revealing photographs but would be decried as "unnatural" by certain well-known televangelists.

Yet what the critics fail to point out is the nature of the parent/child relationship. As much as it may be hidden under layers of swearing and sexual innuendo, the kids of "South Park" have always been the voices of reason. OK, except for Cartman. Even under the best of circumstances, Cartman is several rungs short of reason on the logical ladder. And Kenny is a dirty little bastard.

But Kyle and Stan usually try to do the right thing. It's the adults that always screw things up, either by their irrational overprotectiveness or their constant pressure to mold the kids into perfect little adults. The movie takes this approach even further. While the parents are busy trying to execute television personalities and declaring war on our neighbors to the north, the boys are preoccupied with self-sacrifice, protecting the First Amendment and saving the world. It may be hard to find, but these four little scamps do teach us a moral or two.

Even Cartman.

Another similarity the movie has to the television show is a tendency to try too hard for some laughs. In the rush to piss off as many people as possible, Parker and Stone end up forcing some jokes, resulting in some uneven segments which are quickly forgotten on the heels of another well placed four-letter word.

Not only does "Bigger, Longer & Uncut" contain enough cursing for half a dozen Eddie Murphy movies, it also showcases enough musical numbers for the same number of Rodgers and Hammerstein films. And while Disney's Tim Rice and Alan Mencken may cart home the Oscars every year, Trey Parker proves himself the greatest lyrical genius since that guy that wrote "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer."

The musical highlights include a inspirational medley straight from "Les Miserables," a song about appropriate substitutions for most of the Seven Words You Can't Say on TV, and another dose of the classic Christmas carol from "Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo." This remake of "Kyle's Mom is a Bitch," done with a distinctively "It's a Small World After All" flavor, is worth twice the price of admission by itself.

Included among the surprises are a number of celebrity cameos, an ending you thought you'd never see and a genuinely eerie vision of Hell reminiscent of the live-action "Spawn" movie from a couple years back. If you can't guess who ends up there early on in the movie, you're not a true fan.

If you're a professional film critic or regularly use the words "mise-en-scene" or "quixotic abstract narrative structure" in a sentence, skip "South Park." In fact, the only reason I got to attend the press screening is because the two critics with whom I work on a movie-review show decided that "Bigger, Longer & Uncut" would be both "childish and immature" and "beneath [their] contempt." They were right.

But for normal, non-pretentious, non-assholes, "South Park" is an absolute blast. The only problem with this movie is the fact that it spoils you. Once you've been exposed to the raw, uncut mayhem Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman are capable of, going back to the TV show may be a nasty withdrawal indeed.


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