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Friday, Aug. 4, 2000

'SOUTH PARK'

Just what the doctor ordered


As a critic, I'm obliged to comment intelligently on the flicks which grace our screens. With "South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut," though -- the big-screen adaptation of the popular animated TV series -- the temptation is to throw in the towel.

What more can be said than (insert Cartman voice here) "Kick-ass, dude!"? But that would be missing something important, for no matter how crude, rude and obnoxious this twisted little cartoon can get, it does have a greater societal significance as well, namely as a giant cultural enema, purging America of all its P.C. blockage. The cartoon's creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, are equal-opportunity satirists, and everybody gets it here. (If there isn't at least one joke in here that gets your blood boiling, then you'd better check your pulse.) In the tradition of the great comedian Lenny Bruce -- particularly his racial epithet routine -- they dredge up the repressed and exorcise its power through ridiculous overkill.

"South Park" begins with a familiar situation, as foul-mouthed third-graders Stan, Cartman, Kyle and Kenny (voiced by Parker and Stone), sneak into the R-rated movie "Asses on Fire," which features their favorite scatological comedians, the egg-headed Canadian duo Terence and Philip. When one of the kids (regular viewers can guess which) has a fatal accident while imitating the film and trying to ignite a fart, the town's parents go on the war path.

Led by Kyle's strident Jewish mom, Sheila Broflovski, they blame the film, the comedians, and -- through irrational escalation -- all of Canada. This results in war between the U.S. and Canada, and the planned public execution of Terence and Philip, presided over by Big Gay Al. This, in turn, will be the signal for Satan and his minions (including his stud-muffin, the recently deceased Saddam Hussein) to emerge from hell and usher in the Apocalypse.

Over the top? Yes. The film includes many of the tropes from the series -- cheesy poofs, the oh-so-suave Chef, Kenny's demise, Mr. Hat, "kick the baby," Cartman's mom in a German hardcore porn video -- but with two big differences. One is that the foul language is not restricted by the codes of TV, and the creators take their gloves off early on. Terence and Philip's creative use of expletives, which are soon aped by Cartman and friends, will leave native speakers in tears, but the less colorful subtitles may leave Japanese audiences straining to find the humor.

The other bold move is to make "South Park" into a full-fledged musical, which leads to some wonderfully silly moments. Terence and Philip's MTV-video version of "Shut Your F***ing Face, Uncle F***er" is a brilliant bit of madness, complete with bikini-clad babes gyrating to the electro beat, while Satan's ballad, "Up There" -- yearning for a life on earth, sipping margaritas on yachts full of butch sailor boys -- is a wickedly accurate parody of the sort of adult contemporary pap that plagues children's animation these days.

Despite its irresponsibly anarchic nature, "South Park" is, believe it or not, an issue film. The scene where the parents of South Park are off at a rally decrying Terence and Philip's bad influence on their kids, while the kids themselves are back home surfing porn sites on the Net, pretty much says it all. (Yet the filmmakers' belief that a little rude language never hurt anybody is belied by the fact that no responsible parent is going to let their kid watch this film.)

Parker and Stone lampoon the current American obsession with always finding someone to blame for any and every problem, particularly when one's own negligence is the cause. In an age when Californians can sue the government and win for not putting up signs advising them that "mountain lions are dangerous and can bite," this is long overdue.

For all its savage wit, "South Park" occasionally sinks to the level of what it sets out to mock. Casting Saddam Hussein as the devil's gay sodomite may be poking fun at America's demonization of Arabs, or it may be playing to it. Similarly, when the kids' teacher Mr. Garrison advises them, regarding women, to "never trust anything that bleeds for five days and doesn't die," it's the sort of joke that can draw laughs from the frat-boy crowd without a trace of irony.

The film also falters when it relies on the series' worst habit, the lazy character assassination of second-tier celebrities. Jokes about late-night talk-show host Conan O'Brien won't play outside the U.S., and even this critic was mystified by the one-joke musical routine about Brian Boitano, whoever he is.

But these are minor quibbles for a film which will leave you laughing till your sides hurt, and humming along with Terence and Philip's jaunty "Uncle F***er." One suspects that like "Beavis and Butthead" before it, "South Park" does not have a lot of room to grow once the outrageousness has worn off. In the meantime, though, it's a healthy reminder that in the world of cartoons, everyone's a caricature, and that humor must be free to offend. This cult flick of the summer is playing at the always excellent Cine Amuse, where you can still catch Todd Solondz's "Happiness" as well, if you want double the fun.

"South Park" is playing at Cine Amuse in Shibuya.


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