BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD DO AMERICA (1996)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 21 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Continuous Crude Sex-Related Humor and Language, and for a Drug-Related Scene

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Directed by: Mike Judge

Written by: Mike Judge & Joe Stillman

Voices of: Mike Judge, Demi Moore, Bruce Willis, Robert Stack, Cloris Leachman, Richard Linklater, Dale Reeves, Greg Kinnear, David Letterman & Tony Darling

Before SOUTH PARK was the most controversial cartoon around, MTV’s BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD was blamed for corrupting the youth of America. However, the joke was on the show’s haters because lots of people enjoyed watching Mike Judge’s cartoon about two metalhead morons. His shorts gained so much popularity that MTV immediately approached Judge to make a feature film. After rejecting the misguided offer for a live-action BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD movie, Judge brought the two boys to the big screen in glorious animated fashion. BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD DO AMERICA is a frequently hilarious comedy that packs in colorful visuals and a high level of energy from start to finish.

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One morning, dimwitted couch potatoes Beavis (Mike Judge) and Butt-Head (also Judge) wake up to find their TV has been stolen. The boys venture off to grab a new television and this leads them straight into the path of lowlife criminal Muddy Grimes (Bruce Willis), who mistakes the teens for a pair of hired killers. Beavis and Butt-Head misinterpret Muddy’s offer of 10 thousand dollars to “do his wife” and set off to Vegas with intentions to “score.” The two idiots are soon thrust into a national conspiracy. Crazy hijinks, sexual innuendos, peyote-induced hallucinations, more attempts to score with chicks, and the reemergence of The Great Cornholio soon follow.

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In transitioning from the small screen to the big one, Mike Judge realized that the crude animation of BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD’s shorts simply wasn’t going to fly on a giant theater screen. So he gave the boys and their world a colorful makeover. Having watched some of the shorts before and after seeing this film, the background animation and wide aspect ratio makes a huge difference to the viewer’s eye. Judge takes the two dim-witted metalheads across famous locations and puts them in crazy scenarios that are sure to please fans of Mike Judge’s comedy in general. It bears mentioning that I’m not the biggest BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD fan, but I still had an absolute blast watching this film.

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This screenplay is chockfull of non-stop sexual innuendos (would you expect anything else from Beavis and Butt-Head?) and clever twists of fate. Judge has lots of low-brow jokes, but also packs in plenty of smart humor that foreshadowed his future KING OF THE HILL series (which premiered a month after this film’s original release). Montages of absurd situations, smart references that don’t necessarily spell out the punchline for the audience, and the high-stakes conspiracy that this two teenage morons wander around in make for one very entertaining film. There are jokes that fans of the show will appreciate more than the casual viewer, but the laughs come frequently and in ways you might not expect.

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While Judge reprises the voices of Beavis and Butt-Head, he also puts in extra work as hippie teacher Van Driessen (who sings the unforgettable song “Lesbian Seagull”) and Hank Hill soundalike Tom Anderson. The supporting characters are voiced by notable big actors and actresses. Bruce Willis is hilarious as loose-cannon redneck Muddy Grimes, while Demi Moore (Willis’s wife at the time) plays scantily clad Dallas Grimes. Robert Stack receives huge laughs as a cavity-search-obsessed ATF Agent. Cloris Leachman is great as a little old lady who seems a bit too eager to hand out her prescription pills to Beavis. David Letterman and Tony Darling show up as familiar-looking roadies, while Greg Kinnear and Richard Linklater also have small parts.

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In true BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD fashion, the film has a rockin’ soundtrack that features the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers, White Zombie, Rancid and many more. These songs are mostly well placed, though the film occasionally interrupts the story’s flow to include them. A Vegas montage to “Love Rollercoaster” is quite fun to watch and so is a Rob Zombie illustrated hallucination in the desert. Even though this moments seem a bit jarring and Judge has admitted to MTV forcing his hand towards their inclusion, they remain enjoyable in the context of the film and on their own.

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Not every joke in BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD DO AMERICA works, but the film has held up remarkably well over two decades later. A majority of the laughs seem geared towards fans and casual viewers alike, while the script is smarter than you’d expect. The film’s hand-drawn, larger-scope animation is impressive to look at. Meanwhile, the soundtrack adds an extra (literal) rockin’ layer of energy to the proceedings. Call me crazy, but BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD DO AMERICA is a better animated comedy than SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER & UNCUT (which occasionally felt forced and overstayed its welcome). If you don’t mind diving into Mike Judge’s cartoon about two pill-popping, sex-obsessed, rock-loving couch potatoes, then BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD DO AMERICA is a good time!

Grade: B+

OFFICE SPACE (1999)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language and brief Sexuality

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Directed by: Mike Judge

Written by: Mike Judge

Starring: Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston, Stephen Root, Gary Cole, David Herman, Ajay Naidu, John C. McGinley & Paul Willson

Have you ever been stuck in slow-moving traffic on your way to work? Have you ever endured the insufferable ramblings of a dickhead boss or had to put up with inane antics from annoying coworkers? Are you sick of wasting away your precious time on filling out menial paperwork? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions and are feeling fed up with life in general, then you might just be overdue for a viewing of Mike Judge’s OFFICE SPACE. In his first live-action feature film, Judge weaves everyday annoyances into a hilarious, relatable workplace comedy.

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Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) is a bored programmer stuck in his cubicle job at Initech. On a daily basis, Peter finds himself beset by constant criticism from eight different bosses, loaded with frustrating paperwork, and depressed by sheer boredom. In an effort to combat his depression, Peter visits a hypnotherapist and is put into a deep state of relaxation…only to have the therapist drop dead before he can bring Peter back to the real world. Now invigorated with a new lease on life, Peter decides that he’ll do whatever he wants with little regard to the consequences at work and soon finds himself flourishing with upper management. When the company decides to fire Peter’s hard-working friends Michael Bolton (David Herman) and Samir Nagheenanajar (Ajay Naidu), Peter decides that the best course of action is to rebel against Initech…much to the dismay of his waitress girlfriend Joanna (Jennifer Aniston).

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OFFICE SPACE was hardly a financial success at the box office, earning back two million over its 10 million dollar budget. However, the film soon found a cult following after its disappointing stint in theaters. Though details of the cubicle environment are exaggerated for comedic effect, OFFICE SPACE holds a lot of truth in its perfectly paced 89-minute running time. Judge based the script off a series of animated shorts which in turn came from experiences at his first job. Ties to real-world office politics and stupidity raise this film above simply being a comedy, making the story far more relatable and the laughs even bigger as a result. The grounded sense of humor lends itself to running gags about TPS reports, Michael Bolton’s music, a malfunctioning printer and a red stapler. Though those topics might not sound especially funny, Judge transforms them into something truly special.

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Another great narrative technique that Judge employs is a careful use of subplots. There are a handful of smaller storylines in OFFICE SPACE that wouldn’t make features by themselves, but blend naturally into the movie’s main plot. Joanna’s flair feud with her smug restaurant manager will likely cherished by anyone who’s worked in food service. Peter and Joanna’s blooming relationship comes off as a believable love story and doesn’t distract from the workplace comedy angle. The film’s best subplot easily belongs to company vice president Bill Lumbergh’s (Gary Cole) constant harassment of bespectacled weirdo Milton Waddams (Stephen Root). This was ripped straight out of Judge’s early animated shorts. Cole’s passive-aggressive boss and Root’s ginger-haired oddball serve as the film’s two biggest highlights.

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Ron Livingston has never struck me as an acting talent to be reckoned with, but he perfectly embodies everyman Peter. This protagonist’s earlier moments keep the viewer in an appropriately frustrated mindset and then we feel elated with him as he begins to enjoy his day-to-day life more. For my money, Peter Gibbons will likely be the best performance we ever see from Livingston. Jennifer Aniston, who was in her fifth season of FRIENDS at this point, is great as Peter’s not-so-ambitious love interest. Joanna is a kung-fu loving girl who just wants to live her life to the best of her ability. She also gives some very simple, but true life advice during her final scene.

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Other colorful supporting characters include the Bobs, a pair of corporate “housecleaners” played by Paul Willson and an especially hilarious John C. McGinley. These two lay-off managers don’t take up a ton of screen time and make the most of their scenes. Ajay Naidu hasn’t starred in too many noteworthy movie roles, but he steals a number of moments as good-natured Samir. He also pulls off a brief breakdance move that cracks me up every time I see it. Finally, David Herman has befallen a similar fate to Naidu in that he’s mainly a supporting role and hasn’t received a ton of big screen time (aside from the first three seasons of MAD TV). That’s truly a shame, because he has plenty of great moments as profanity-filled, self-loathing Michael Bolton. It’s also worth noting that this movie’s rap soundtrack makes scenes of these white-collar rebels even funnier with its obvious contrast.

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There are many reasons why OFFICE SPACE has spawned such a notable reputation and cult following since it’s so-so theatrical reception. This film resonates with plenty of pissed off employees and comedy lovers simply for its honest, unblinking nature at stupid office politics, crappy workplaces and everyday annoyances. Judge’s script feels genuine and hilarious, never going too far over-the-top to be completely unbelievable or non-relatable. The many subplots ensure that there’s never a laugh-free scene on the screen, while the main storyline is likely to leave the viewer with an upbeat attitude afterwards. OFFICE SPACE is not only one of the best comedies to come out of the 90’s, it’s one of my all-time favorite comedies! If nothing else, this film is sure to cure a case of the Mondays.

Grade: A+

SPY KIDS (2001)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 28 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Action Sequences

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Directed by: Robert Rodriguez

Written by: Robert Rodriguez

Starring: Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara, Danny Trejo, Alan Cumming, Tony Shalhoub, Teri Hatcher, Robert Patrick, Cheech Marin, George Clooney, Mike Judge & Richard Linklater

The 90’s gave birth to many talented new filmmakers. One of these names was Robert Rodriguez. With two violent westerns and an R-rated vampire comedy behind him, it seemed a bit odd that the next step in Rodriguez’s career would be making a children’s film. However, he wowed audiences and critics alike with SPY KIDS. This is a film that I have fond memories of watching multiple times during my childhood. I saw this film in theaters and owned the VHS tape (back in the day when they were still making those), so I was a bit hesitant to revisit this film with so many years having passed me by since I last viewed it. I was expecting my memories to be overly nostalgic and the actual movie to be a potential disappointment. However, that was not the case at all. SPY KIDS has aged fantastically over time and remains a quality dose of family entertainment that provides fun for both adults and children alike. Color me pleasantly surprised.

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Ingrid and Gregorio Cortez are far from your typical married couple. They were originally rival spies hired to eliminate each other, but they fell deeply in love instead. Soon enough, they got hitched and had two kids. Now raising their children, Carmen and Juni, these married former spies find themselves out of their element in domestic life. Any average filmmaker could have stopped there and called that the plot, but Rodriguez continues by having Ingrid and Gregorio abducted during one last mission by a madman. It’s up to young Carmen and Juni to thwart a super villain’s dastardly plans (which involve robot assassins) as well as rescue their parents.

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There are a number of reasons why SPY KIDS stands high above most of the recent live-action efforts masquerading as family entertainment. The biggest of these is the stunning amount of creativity on display. Robert Rodriguez clearly had a distinct vision of how he wanted to tell this story, when to incorporate humor and how to combine multiple character arcs. Most of the laughs come from good old-fashioned humor on display. I couldn’t point out any moments of innuendo and there was only one potty joke (which is brushed off casually as Rodriguez giving the obligatory obvious poop joke that we all saw coming). In the wrong hands, SPY KIDS could have been an easy, overly familiar kid-friendly spin on 007 (think AGENT CODY BANKS). Instead, this film seems intent on entertaining everyone and it accomplishes that goal in style.

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What makes SPY KIDS even more enjoyable is the talented cast. Antonio Banderas (known for playing typically darker action heroes) and Carla Gugino (who later went on to star in R-rated comic book adaptations like SIN CITY and WATCHMEN) play against their usual characters as two spies who are out of their element as parents. This provides a lot of jokes that adults will latch on to. Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara, both newcomers at the time, star as brother and sister: Carmen and Juni. Though they can be wooden at times, they come across as likable protagonists worth rooting for. Other familiar faces show up in Danny Trejo (playing their Uncle Machete…get it?), Robert Patrick (as a briefly seen baddie), Cheech Marin (as an undercover agent) and George Clooney (in a brief, but very funny cameo). The best casting decisions come in Alan Cumming and Tony Shalhoub as the main villains. Cumming plays his evil mastermind as sort of a demented Dr. Seuss type who also happens to run a nightmarish kids’ show (think a cross between YO GABBA GABBA and TELETUBBIES). Shalhoub is the power-hungry Minion who becomes increasingly concerned that his boss is more obsessed with his TV program rather than the actual evil plan at work.

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SPY KIDS runs under 90 minutes and feels perfectly paced as a result. There’s a lot of stuff happening in every scene and not a wasted frame. There are also two story-arcs distinctly aimed at adults and children. The adults will connect more with the two former spies dealing with the stresses of starting a family and kids will connect with the sibling story-arc about the importance of family, though the latter can definitely be appreciated by older viewers as well. The action scenes are brought to life through mostly good effects that combine CGI and practical work (including mutated kid’s show mascots and robotic guards made entirely of thumbs). It’s downright whimsical and enjoyable all the way through.

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I am definitely surprised at how well SPY KIDS holds up over a decade later. The story is creative, the characters are all fleshed out, and the humor is likely to connect with viewers of all ages. While most live-action family fare in the new millennium has struggled to find that nitch for both adults and children, Robert Rodriguez walked that tightrope with 2001’s SPY KIDS. This film manages to bring solid entertainment that can be appreciated by viewers who want something creative and deliberately silly. Give it a look and you’re likely to have a lot of fun.

Grade: B+

IDIOCRACY (2006)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 24 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language and Sex-related Humor

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Directed by: Mike Judge

Written by: Mike Judge, Etan Cohen

Starring: Luke Wilson, Maya Rudolph, Dax Shepard, Terry Crews, Anthony Campos, David Herman, Justin Long, Thomas Haden Church, Stephen Root

Idiots. The world is full of them. Turn on the news, read a blog, or (God forbid) do a search on YouTube if you want some recent examples of stupidity that pops up in our society again and again. IDIOCRACY (Mike Judge’s third feature film) was promptly shelved and then dumped into an extremely limited theatrical release by the studio that financed it (Fox). This is a pity on so many levels. One of which being that this sci-fi comedy has some startling, funny, and depressing points to make about the future of mankind. It’s not without faults, but I guarantee you haven’t seen anything quite like this film before and you probably won’t see anything like it again.

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In the present day, Joe Bauers has been selected for a top-secret army experiment. The reason he’s been chosen isn’t that Joe is a genius, but he’s the most average man in every category and doesn’t have any pesky living relatives to ask questions. He’s frozen in cryogenic sleep and through human error, wakes up 500 years in the future. Joe makes the shocking discovery that everything has been dumbed down to ridiculous levels. Joe is now the smartest man in the world and must deal with this whole new stupid society.

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The depiction of why humanity’s IQ suddenly dropped is terrifying, because it’s so true. Smart people think things through before they decide to have kids, dumb people don’t. How many huge white trash families do you see with tons of kids running wild around the supermarket? It’s altogether depressing to think about and director/writer Mike Judge knows this. He tends to keep things as upbeat and wacky as possible, despite the arguable accuracy of his vision of the future. A whole lot of creativity permeates through every frame. Careful attention has been paid to small details that bring this world to life. Shameless product placement has been turned into a punchline, rather than obvious marketing towards certain companies. I can’t imagine that you’ll want to visit Costco, Starbucks, or Carl’s Jr. after watching IDIOCRACY, because of how the movie portrays each of these chains. Also, I doubt you’ll want to chug an energy drink (which is preferable to water in this future) either.

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With all of the scathing satire taken into account, IDIOCRACY comes dangerously close to wearing out its welcome. Some of the characters and humor are a little too obnoxious. Luke Wilson is a decent enough leading man here. I always seem to get the impression that he’s the less talented or charismatic Wilson brother. His performance didn’t do much to change my mind. However, seeing as his character is a perfectly average guy, it seemed like ideal casting (no major disrespect to Luke Wilson). Dax Shepherd also overplayed his role of an idiotic lawyer to the point of teetering on the annoying side, rather than a lovable doofus that the script tries to make him out to be. Maya Rudolph is the worst character here and the less said about her performance, the better. A few big name actors do pop up in short roles as the future morons, these include Justin Long, Stephen Root, and Thomas Haden Church. Finally, there’s Terry Crews and he’s without a doubt hilarious to watch. As a wrestler-elected-president, Crews is having a blast and it’s infectious to the viewer as well.

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The finale also falls into a predictable territory, where the viewer is pretty much just waiting for things to follow the exact manner that they do wind up playing out in. With all of this being said, Mike Judge does hit the nail on the head very well in little details and lots of scenes are scathingly funny. We’ve all met people who resemble some traits of this future folk and it’s horrifying accurate to think that the planet might some day wind up in an idiotic dystopian world. Again, I did like how fleshed out this world was. Tone wise, the film feels like a 70’s sci-fi film that’s been injected with a good dose of humor alongside the relevant social commentary.

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IDIOCRACY is far from Mike Judge’s best work (OFFICE SPACE and KING OF THE HILL), but it’s also earned the cult status surrounding it. What’s even more telling is that the studio dumped this film in a terrible manner and yet movies like TRANSFORMERS still get huge releases. This move could be viewed as another step closer to IDIOCRACY’s predicted future of people paying to see a 90-minute movie titled Ass or watching “Ow, My Balls!” on TV every evening. As playful as it is satirical, IDIOCRACY is recommended for those wanting out of the ordinary laughs or are curious about taking a look into a possible terrifying future where smart people are an endangered species.

Grade: B

SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER & UNCUT (1999)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 21 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Pervasive Vulgar Language and Crude Sexual Humor, and for some Violent Images

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Directed by: Trey Parker

Written by: Tray Parker, Matt Stone, Pam Brady

Voices of: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Mary Kay Bergman, Isaac Hayes, George Clooney, Dave Foley, Eric Idle, Mike Judge

A common problem with turning a TV series into a movie is that the film version might wind up feeling like an extended episode of the show. Trey Parker and Matt Stone definitely have a knack for comedy. Their long-running animated comedy series SOUTH PARK has only grown in quality over the years. Each season comes funnier than the last. SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER & UNCUT was released midway through the third season of the popular animated satire. As a result, it feels as if Parker and Stone are trying too hard to push boundaries in their early years and only care about throwing as many outrageous things on the screen for the sake of being offensive. There’s social commentary in BIGGER, LONGER & UNCUT that holds plenty of relevance to this day, but some of it gets bogged down in this feeling like an elongated episode of the series.

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It’s a beautiful Sunday morning in the quiet little mountain town of South Park. Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny are heading to the movie theater for the brand new Terrance & Phillip film. This popular flick is a heavily profane R-rated comedy from two Canadian actors and the boys are denied tickets due to the Restricted MPAA rating. They sneak in any way. Three hours later, they walk out with a whole new vocabulary of curse words and creative combinations of swearing. As any kid in this situation would, they unleash these newly learned phrases on their fellow peers. Soon every child across the country has seen the R-rated comedy that was never intended for children to begin with. The outraged adults look to blame anyone but themselves for their children’s misbehavior and Canada becomes their target. A war is brewing between the USA and Canada, all while the possibility of Hell literally rising on Earth is growing. It’s up to the band of potty-mouthed friends to save the day.

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One thing I’ve noticed about Parker and Stone’s humor is that it’s fantastic in small doses. Don’t get me wrong. I can and have watched episodes of SOUTH PARK for hours on end. Everything from the fifth season forward has been comedy gold. However, if too much time is spent on certain storylines, then the jokes wind up becoming tiresome and overstaying their welcome. A good example of this in the series is the three-episode story-arcs that come every few seasons. There are brilliant moments in each, but overall I kind of wish that these storylines would conclude faster than they do. This all being said, SOUTH PARK is a series loaded with crude humor and social commentary. There are points being made behind all the stupidity. In BIGGER, LONGER & UNCUT, Parker and Stone tackle the hypocrisy of the MPAA Ratings board (apparently, this film had a long-running battle with the organization and received its final R rating only two weeks before the release) and freedom of speech. The jabs at the hypocritical organization and people looking for an easy scapegoat are more than a little well-deserved.

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The jokes range from hilarious to a little lame. The latter being shown in a homosexual relationship between Satan and Saddam Hussein. It’s supposed to be dumb, but I didn’t find it very funny. It was overplayed and the running gag just felt stupid. The biggest laughs come in the promising first third through some clever bits of dialogue and insults. You can almost feel the point where the movie begins to run out of steam and get dragged down from great to the level of alright. It’s not nearly as solid as you might expect walking into a SOUTH PARK movie. The same thing being said about jokes can also be said for the musical numbers. The series has quite a few songs, so does this movie. Some of these musical numbers come off as either trying too hard or not being that funny to begin with. The best songs also come in the first third of the film. BIGGER, LONGER & UNCUT starts off really strong and concludes in a thoroughly mediocre way.

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I did enjoy the no-holds-barred approach being taken and the extreme lengths that some jokes would go to for a laugh. The war on Canada segments have deliberate echoes of wars past (including shipping off Canadian-born US citizens to death camps…I mean, happy camps). A few short-lived celebrity cameo voices are thrown in for good measure too (George Clooney appears for a few minutes as a doctor treating Kenny). Trey Parker and Matt Stone never seem afraid of pushing boundaries and taking risks. That’s exactly what they do every step of the way in BIGGER, LONGER & UNCUT. Some of them pay off and others don’t.

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SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER & UNCUT is essentially just one long episode of the series. This idea may entertain some, but when I watch a movie based on a TV series, I expect a storyline slightly grander than what you might see on the small screen at home (e.g. THE SIMPSONS MOVIE). Rest assured, SOUTH PARK makes every possible use of its R rating from an absurd amount of profanity to graphic nudity and disgusting sexual innuendos. The plot needs some work though, especially with the lackluster final act. Parker and Stone have drastically improved their animated series since it’s inception over a decade ago, all while nailing satire in far more interesting ways (e.g. THE BOOK OF MORMON musical and TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE). SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER & UNCUT is a strictly fans only affair. Even then, some fans might just want to stick to watching half-hour episodes on TV.

Grade: C+

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