Delivering on at least two-thirds of its title -- commercial considerations evidently led co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone to cave on their avowed NC-17 in favor of an R at the 11th hour -- "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut" brings cable TV's most objectionable tykes to the silver screen with considerable aplomb.
Delivering on at least two-thirds of its title — commercial considerations evidently led co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone to cave on their avowed NC-17 in favor of an R at the 11th hour — “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut” brings cable TV’s most objectionable tykes to the silver screen with considerable aplomb. Speaking of objections, pic may well incite a firestorm over its utterly juvenile and tasteless (if oft hilarious) content, given all the current hand-wringing over influence of “irresponsible” mass media entertainment on impressionable minds. Commercially, the big question is to what extent this Paramount-WB co-production will suffer from the season’s resultant crackdown on sub-adult admissions, since the broadcast series’ fan base largely skews under 18. At the very least, twentysomethings will make this a short-term smash at the wickets, with heady prospects ahead for the less-closely-guarded homevid market.Controversy (as well as ratings) have quieted down since the “South Park” series commenced two years ago on Comedy Central, but feature release is likely to pump that volume back up — even as it reinvigorates what was already becoming a somewhat stale concept. After a delightful opening “production number” (the first of many) re-introducing “redneck” Colorado mountain burg South Park and its quaint, if callous, inhabitants, pic immediately sets to needling the series’ public-standards foes. Pint-size third-grade protags Stan, Kyle, Cartman (the tantrum-prone fat kid) and Kenny (the fatal-accident-prone one whose dialogue is ever-muffled by a parka hood) are thrilled to discover their TV faves, Canadian fartistes Terrence and Philip, have a movie (“Asses of Fire”) at the local ‘plex. Uh-oh: It’s NC-17. The boys finesse this obstacle, however, and emerge with a whole new graphic vocabulary to abet their already precocious “potty mouths.” This doesn’t go down well at school or at home, however. Wondering where to focus outrage, Kyle’s mom spearheads an anti-Canadian agitprop campaign that soon lands Terrence and Philip in U.S. prison for “corruption of youth.” Violent Canuck reprisal follows, with all thesping Baldwin brothers the first to be bombed. Soon, both nations are on the brink of full-scale combat. Meanwhile, Kenny, of course, has met yet another tragic end. Ejected from heaven, he goes south, where Satan and recent arrival Saddam Hussein are engaged in a complex, unsatisfying domestic relationship that lacks mutual trust and communication. (It’s part of “South Park’s” charm that treacly “positive messages” always come in the crassest imaginable packages.) Kyle, Stan and Cartman orchestrate La Resistance, a children’s underground aimed at preventing North American war and possible biblical apocalypse. Their efforts culminate at a USO show where Terrence and Philip are to be executed. Nothing is sacred and no humor too lowbrow in the South Park universe. Relying on a Lenny Bruce-type tactic of defusing explosive issues by childishly reveling in their most crude expression, the screenplay (by the creators and Pam Brady) ladles out parodic high doses of xenophobia, knee-jerk patriotism, racism, homophobia and whatever else comes to mind. There’s no true malice at work here — it’s all really in service of an earnest pro-tolerance theme, however snarkily articulated. Still, even the most “whatever”-oriented viewer may well balk at one point or another, with Parker and Stone’s fixation on jokey gay-sex refs, in particular, taken to rather incessant extremes. More conservative observers will find the bigscreen “South Park” indefensible from start to finish. To varying degrees, numerous celebrities (from Brooke Shields to Bill Gates), the White House and, inevitably, the ratings board become grist for a ruthless but frequently inspired comic mill. With censorship as their special, quite personal target here, the creators assail an MPAA that condones “horrific violence as long as there aren’t any naughty words”; and Cartman is implanted with a custom V-chip that electroshocks kiddies out of their foul-tongued habits. No doubt the most low-tech animated feature from a major studio in eons, “Bigger” preserves the TV series’ “handmade” aesthetic (via backgrounds and characters that look like children’s paper cutouts) to delightful bigscreen effect, adding tacky bits of digital imagery and live action. Headlong pacing keeps the screen filled with eye-blink sight gags. Biggest development — beyond revelations that Kenny is a blond, and at last gets to speak clearly — is a wholesale expansion of the show’s occasional “musical” interludes. Ranging from a global sing-along reprise of “Kyle’s Mother Is a Bitch” to Terrence & Philip’s “rap video” and a “West Side Story” parody, these rude ditties (penned by Parker) are fully orchestrated and lavishly “staged” to hilarious impact. Editing is of the greased-lightning ilk; show’s voice talents (albeit without much participation from Isaac Hayes’ beloved Chef) stick to their willfully amateurish guns. George Clooney, Minnie Driver and Dave Foley make brief audio appearances. It’s hard to dismiss arguments that “South Park” is hardly suitable fare for younger auds incapable of understanding its subtler, offense-allaying ironies. But “Bigger, Longer & Uncut” will make it harder still to dismiss, or kill, this cultural mini-phenom — not least because the feature is a more clever diversion than anyone had any right to expect.