Trey Parker teams up yet again with Matt Stone to create yet another bomb
South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut
Starring: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Mike Judge, Dave Foley, Minnie Driver, Brent Spiner, George Clooney, Isaac Hayes, Mary Kay Bergman, and Eric Idle
Screenplay: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Pam Brady
Producers: Trey Parker and Matt Stone
Director: Trey Parker
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive vulgar language and crude sexual humor, and for some violent images
For anyone who has had the pleasure (or displeasure, depending on your relative conservativeness) of watching Comedy Central's half-hour long TV show "South Park," you might understand why the idea of a big screen film adaption of the show seemed to be a good idea. Just imagining what creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone could do with an R rating would get fans into the seats. I admit to liking the TV show's audacity for pushing the envelope while also pushing out some biting satire. Unfortunately, it was and still is impossible for me to sit through more than one episode at a time. The crude animation and the constant mean-spiritedness and vulgarity can only be tolerated in short doses. So I was hesitant to experience a 90-minute film on the same idea.
Now after witnessing it, I must admit that my initial attitude was the correct one. About 45 minutes in, the film's nonstop profanity and humor grew tiresome. The F-word became as meaningless as it was to the four kids who spouted them. I wanted a break. I wanted to step out into the lobby and take a breather. But there is no intermission, no pause for the audience to let what they've seen and heard sink in. Pointed satire turns into desperate attempts for our attention. Obviously, Stone and Parker grew up on MTV, acquiring ASS (my acronym for my self-defined Attention Span Syndrome--not to be confused with Attention Deficit Disorder). In the first thirty minutes, the F-word has been uttered well over one hundred times. It's all for shock value, and after the first thirty to forty-five minutes, the shock value drops like a rock (but it does not go away completely).
And yet, South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut (could there be a more suitable title?), as crude as it is, is not entirely bad. In fact, it is extremely funny. For all of its profaneness, I can't remember laughing more at a comedy this year to date. It reminds me of There's Something About Mary in the way that it goes for laughs: Parker and Stone go to great lengths to make sure it is funny. They use any and all measures to ensure that the audience laughs. For me, I was laughing first at how amazingly crude it was, and then I was laughing at myself for laughing at it. And yet, for all of its humor, I felt bad about doing it, as if a bolt of lightning was going to strike me through the head. It offended me to no end, and there I sat, laughing.
South Park essentially copies the same style of which made the TV show famous. The incredibly amateurish animation gives the film a certain freedom to be crude, almost as if little children were playing around with cardboard characters. There are scenes in which digital effects are used, including some visually amazing scenes of hell. But for the most part, the animation is kept to a bare minimum. Some of the funniest moments in this film come when the South Park citizens comment on the crude animation of the film-within-a-film Asses of Fire, a Canadian import from the potty-mouthed actors Terrence and Philip. The main plot basically centers around Terrence and Philip, whose vulgar film causes an uproar in the community of South Park. Soon enough, the United States government has declared war on Canada until Terrence and Philip are executed.
Stan Marsh, Kyle Broslovsky, Kenny McCormick, and Eric Cartman (Trey Parker and Matt Stone) all decide to take it into their own hands to save Terrence and Philip. This forces them to compete directly with Kyle's mother (voiced by Mary Kay Bergman), leader of the Mothers Against Canada coalition. Soon enough, she forces the President to fight against Canada, which leads to the extermination of the entire Baldwin and Arquette families. America, being obsessed over Hollywood and its celebrities as it is, reciprocates, resulting in World War III. During all of this, Kenny is killed (as he is in almost every episode of the TV show). Only instead of removing Kenny from the picture altogether, we watch as he gets rejected from heaven (depicted as a world full of naked, busty women) and sent into the fiery pits of hell (99.9 percent of Earth's entire population since the beginning of time is located here). It is here that we meet Satan and his boyfriend Saddam Hussein. Strangely, these moments are some of the funniest in the entire film, depicting Satan as a lonely, sensitive fellow and Saddam as a carefree sex-hound. It is also here that the film begins to wear out its welcome.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about South Park is the incredibly smart satire that creators Parker and Stone bring to their screenplay. Disappointing because we realize that it could have been a much more focused and cynical movie. Certainly, being offensive is one thing, but to push it so far as to belittle every single person it can within its running time is meaningless. Many critics have lauded the film's audacity for pulling out all the stops, but something inside of me kept wishing they'd left some of those stops in. The MPAA had the right idea when they awarded the film with the NC-17 rating. It was cut and recut to produce this R-rated one, which makes me wonder if perhaps the MPAA board members simply gave the film an R rating so they wouldn't have to view it again. Offending and attacking a certain group of people can often be very funny, but only when the attackers have a point to make. Here, Parker and Stone offend merely to offend. Their attacks towards the MPAA seem warranted, while their attacks towards women, gays, and Canadians seem like futile attempts at comedy. Much of it doesn't work, and we only laugh because it's the only response that can be expressed. You really have to laugh because it is so incredibly offensive. And after it's over, you wonder why you did.
It's not entirely bad, mind you. The redeeming qualities of the film are evident in the sly comic timing of director Parker, while the quirky and profane dialogue does achieve moments of pure brilliance. The best joke in the entire film is an old one concerning women and a certain monthly activity (uttered by Mr. Garrison, the punchline had my friends gasping all the while laughing for the next five minutes). Parker also happens to be a very gifted songwriter, creating lyrics for Disney-type musical numbers that are abundant throughout the film. Composed by Marc Shaiman (this is his most polished and least sentimental work to date), the songs are catchy, including the cover-your-childrens'-ears "Uncle F***a." These certainly aren't songs you will want your children memorizing and spouting off with mindless innocence.
Yet strangely, Trey Parker and Matt Stone do manage to address this situation. The South Park children utter profanities at a light-speed rate, unaware of their meanings and implications. This makes you wonder if perhaps our society's obsession of keeping our children's morals up is actually having a reverse effect. What starts out as innocent mockery by the children turns into a full-scale war. Is violence and bloodshed appropriate for young children? Why do we feel the need to shield them from sex, nudity, and language, but allow them to see bloody battles and teen slashers without any guilt? They are questions asked, and the answers are left for us to discover. While I'm unsure as to whether or not Stone and Parker intended on this, the issues they do raise will have people talking at the watercooler for weeks to come.
Unfortunately, what will be the topic of discussion around those watercoolers will more than likely be the graphicness of the film's substance, including the exhibition of the male sex organ several times (both real and fake). Big Gay Al is shown completely nude (and it makes you wonder how he ever got the name Big Gay Al), and Saddam whips out his own toy for us to behold. Winona Ryder is shown doing unspeakable (although intriguing) things with ping pong balls. And not only that, but there is even a scene in which Cartman's mother acts in a German porno video (the actual video is mostly hidden from view, but the imagination adequately makes out what she is doing). It is highly doubtful that a sequel could be made of this film, or that even the TV show could continue on Comedy Central. It is difficult to imagine how the creators would be able to push the envelope even more than they already have. Maybe they should stop while they are ahead.
South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut is rated R for pervasive vulgar language and crude sexual humor, and for some violent images. This is definitely one film that children under the age of 17 should not be allowed into without adult supervision, and even then it's questionable. Perhaps younger kids will take a cue from Stan, Kyle, Kenny, and Eric and pay a homeless man to act as their "guardian." But hopefully not. The film is perfectly suitable for the adult crowd, but many will find much to be offended about. It was, of course, Parker and Stone's intention to offend everyone, and I accept that. But that doesn't make this any better a film. It's amateurish without being childish, and occasionally achieves moments of brilliance. But those moments are few and far between. You're better off just renting the episodes and spending a night laughing through the bleeps.
** out of ****
Reviews by Boyd Petrie