by Mike McGranaghan

On the surface, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut seems like little more than a feature-length version of the popular Comedy Central cartoon (of which I am a big fan). The title, it would seem, says it all. For those of us who anticipate the weekly hilarity of the show, a "South Park" movie is naturally exciting. What surprised me is that the film is more ambitious than that. I was reasonably sure I was going to enjoy the film; what I didn't expect was a first-rate satire of censorship and the kind of political hysteria that currently threatens to create it.

The story begins when Kyle, Stan, Cartman and Kenny go to see a new movie called "Asses of Fire" starring Terance and Philip (for those of you unfamiliar with the program, Terance and Philip are the boys' favorite TV duo, known for incessant flatulence jokes). They are stunned to learn the movie is rated R, and the only way to get tickets is to bribe a homeless adult into purchasing them. Once inside, the characters are stunned by Terance and Philip's non-stop stream of blazing profanities, which they then proceed to repeat in the local school yard.

Soon, the parents of South Park get wind of the movie and plan a boycott. Also, since Terance and Philip are Canadian, they convince the government to launch a war on Canada. Meanwhile, poor little Kenny dies and goes to Hell where he meets Satan (in one typically irreverent bit of humor, Saddam Hussein and Satan are portrayed as gay lovers with a portrait of actor Skeet Ulrich adorning their bedroom wall). Terence and Philip are held as war criminals, so the boys try to free them and stand up for their right to say bad words.

South Park: BL&U is much, much raunchier than the TV show. I swear, the profanity count hits triple digits within the first half hour (the popular Screen It website counted over130 used of the F-word in the picture; I believe it's even higher than that). There are all kinds of gross-out jokes and vulgarities (in explaining menstruation to his elementary school class, a teacher says, "Personally, I don't trust anything that bleeds for five days and doesn't die."). Death, mutilation, sex, profanity, internet pornography, homosexuality and bodily fluids all provide sources of humor.

Does the movie have to be this crass? Yes. South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are taking a deliberate potshot at arbiters of taste such as the MPAA (the board that rates movies, often illogically) and those who promote the V-chip (which Cartman has implanted in his brain). Their point is that politicians and parent groups accuse movies and TV of causing bad behavior in children when, in fact, it is the values of the parents themselves that are the most common predictor of how a child behaves. You can agree or disagree with this point, but the filmmakers have done a near-brilliant job satirizing our nation's obsession with weeding out "inappropriate" material. Only by making a vulgar movie can Parker and Stone poke fun at those who oppose vulgarity.

I laughed at South Park, partly because I already like the characters and the style of humor. But I also laughed at the chutzpah of the people who made it. The film is clever, witty, and sometimes shocking. It's a film about itself, since many teenagers will be trying to sneak into this movie much the same way Cartman and friends sneak into theirs. And parents everywhere will be outraged when those kids come home repeating the dialogue.

When I was in 7th grade, we had our own "Asses of Fire." It was called Porky's and every kid in my middle school wanted to see it. On the weekend everyone was planning to go, I somehow managed to convince my father to take me. When I arrived at school Monday morning, I was the only one who had been able to get in. For that one day, I was a very popular kid - everyone came to me wanting to know what was in that movie. The kids in this film go through the very same thing. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut is smart enough to know that sneaking into R-rated movies will always be a youthful activity and, if the kids come away deranged from the experience, it's the fault of the parents, not the movie.

( 1/2 out of four)

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut is rated R for profanity and an abundance of crude humor. The running time is 1 hour and 24 minutes.

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