Cinema: Sick and Inspired

The South Park movie has a mean streak--and a song in its heart

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Some people should probably skip South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, the new feature based on the Comedy Central cartoon series. A short list would include celebrities teased in the movie: the Baldwin brothers (they are killed en masse by the Royal Canadian Air Force); Conan O'Brien (he commits suicide by jumping from the GE Building); Winona Ryder (she performs an unusual exercise with Ping-Pong balls); Bill Gates (he is shot dead because Windows 98 isn't fast enough); Saddam Hussein (he has a gay affair with Satan and toys shamelessly with the Horned One's affections); Barbra Streisand (for all the old reasons); Liza Minnelli (don't ask); and God (who is vilified by one of the movie's guest kid heroes). Also anyone who lacks a bottomless tolerance for inspired comic rudeness.

For the South Park film is that happy surprise, an idea that is enriched as it expands from 20 minutes of TV time to 80 movie minutes. It confounds those who suspected that the explosive blips of the South Park fad were ready to flatline and that a feature film--likely to bore the faithful and annoy everyone else--was the surest way to do a Conan off the window ledge of the show's fading notoriety.

The kids are still here: Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman, the quartet of cut-out third-graders in the "quiet little redneck podunk white-trash mountain town" of South Park, Colo. A bit more is at stake this time: the fate of the world. The lads see a movie starring their favorite Canadian gross-out comics, Terrance and Phillip, and parrot the naughty language. The South Park moms blame Canada, and in a trice we're war-ready. Meanwhile, Kenny (the dead one) goes to hell, where Satan and Saddam lurk. It takes a children's crusade--La Resistance--to get to the final rainbow.

All that and a gigantic talking clitoris should be enough for a short feature. But director Trey Parker (who wrote the film with Matt Stone and Pam Brady) figured he'd turn South Park into a wall-to-wall musical: 14 tunes, each evoking a familiar Broadway style. Cartman's perky Kyle's Mom's a Bitch echoes Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, with choruses in fake Chinese, Dutch and French. Saddam could be an Arabic fiddler on the roof as he struts his seedy charm in I Can Change. Satan has a hilariously solemn ballad in the Disney-cartoon mode; like the Little Mermaid, he wants to be Up There. There's a dexterous quartet of musical themes, a la Les Miz. And though a song whose refrain is, more or less, "Shut your flicking face, Uncle Flicka" would seem to have little room for musical wit, ace arranger Marc Shaiman turns it into an Oklahoma hoedown, with kids chirping like obscene Chipmunks.

Did we say obscene? Be warned: the raunch is nonstop and often noxious. Kids who take their parents (or Liza or the Baldwins) should be prepared for some gasps and a scolding. As Cartman says of the Terrance and Phillip epic, "This movie has warped my fragile little mind." To viewers with sturdier cerebellums, here's another warning: you may laugh yourself sick--as sick as this ruthlessly funny movie is.

--By Richard Corliss