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Idiot's Delight In a hilarious, gag-filled film, Homer Simpson once again proves that ignorance is bliss

Oh, go ahead, for pity's sake. See it. That's my best advice.

Predictably, "The Simpsons Movie" can't quite sustain itself for its full 85-minute length (which is itself, not exactly epic), but so what? The first 45 minutes are absolutely hilarious in exactly the same subversive, anarchic way Matt Groening's TV show is when it's at its very best. That puts "The Simpsons Movie" among the cream of the movie crop thus far in 2007.

When "The Simpsons Movie" is in high gear, in fact, there seems to be a winner of a gag every 20 seconds or so -- a wild line of dialogue, a funny sign (a blimp drifting by on which is written "Duff Beer. Binge Responsibly"), a lunatic sight gag (at one point, Homer is smashed back and forth on a huge crane between a very large rock and a building housing a bar called "The Hard Place").

Great American film comedy has always preferred blissful anarchy to dour order, crass gags to cultural refinement. You know you're in for headlong subversive bliss in "The Simpsons Movie" from the opening minute where Homer, at a movie theater with Springfield's most hapless family, arises dramatically before the attendant multitude and says: "I can't believe we're paying for something we can see for free. . . . If you ask me, everyone here is a sucker."

Nor is that the only time "The Simpsons Movie" is happy as can be to undermine its own irreverent authority. (At one point, a crawl along the bottom of the movie advertises a TV show and then announces proudly that it has just advertised a TV show in a theatrical movie.)

That's part of the reason, by the way, that "The Simpsons Movie" may be in serious contention for the All-Time Chutzpah Championship of American Mainstream Movies (other candidates, of course, are the "South Park" boys and Michael Moore).

In the world of "The Simpsons Movie," Lake Springfield is so polluted that it rots and sinks the very barge on which Green Day is giving a rock benefit concert to clean up Lake Springfield (as soon as they get to the message part of the show, of course, everyone in Springfield stops cheering and starts throwing stones).

And Homer is such a monumentally clueless All-American yutz that his sudden affection for an adopted pet pig not only endangers the always-shaky Simpsons family but also the very life of Springfield itself.

The message of "The Simpsons Movie" seems clear: When idiots are in full flower, God help us all. (And Homer isn't all that keen on the deity, either.)

You have to understand Matt Groening.

Those who only know him as the creator and animating force of "The Simpsons" 20 years ago should be aware that he was part of a whole glorious new wave of cartoonists to hit in the '80s -- Roz Chast, Lynda Barry, Gary Larson. I interviewed him just before "The Simpsons" became a Fox TV series. He told me that at the same time his cartoons began to appear in Los Angeles, he was also functioning as, yes, a rock critic, writing about "groups that had odd names like Severed Head in a Bag. I'd write about these groups where there'd be five people in the audience in these basement nightclubs. The groups themselves were very unappreciative and especially unappreciative when I'd give them a bad review."

He only started writing about the world at large, he told me, when his car broke down one night and he couldn't get to the concert and do the review. People liked the story of his car breaking down just as much as his reviews.

At that moment, one of the great living analysts and satirists of The American Breakdown was born.

So here's where we are in "The Simpsons Movie": Homer is still the pluperfect specimen of American Homo Moronicus. He and son Bart, for instance, amuse themselves doing all the things female anchors on TV sternly advise everyone not to do -- like play dangerous games on rooftops. Their idyllically dysfunctional father and son relationship is marred when Homer adopts a pet pig and dotes on it to the exclusion of everyone else.

Daughter Lisa is preoccupied, because she has met her first big crush -- a thick-brogued Irish rocker and enviro-crusader -- while they're both going door to door to clean up Lake Springfield.

And Marge tends her baby and her giant hive of blue hair with her usual unflappable, maternal efficiency.

Until, that is, Homer's secret midnight disposal of pig waste in Lisa's precious Lake Springfield inspires the evil, power-hungry EPA director to talk figurehead President Schwarzenegger into covering Springfield with a giant dome.

Which, needless to say, buries the Simpson family in obloquy, causes them to move to Alaska and . . . well, you'll just have to see how home and family ultimately win their triumph.

Are you ready for Homer, on the way to church, ranting about churchgoers and "their phony-baloney God"? (When Grandpa starts raving apocalyptically about oncoming doom and getting all Noah-like in church, Homer, in the car afterward, says, with pachyderm diplomacy "a certain someone had a senior moment.")

Are you ready for a flash of Bart's "doodle"? "This is the worst day of my life," Bart says as he's tied naked to a lamppost in the street.

"No," Homer says, correcting his son. "This is the worst day of your life so far."

Have you always wanted to know where the town of Springfield is located? The movie answers your question: in that geographical place where it borders on Ohio, Nevada, Maine and Kentucky. That should take care of that.

At one point, the very real Tom Hanks shows up and says matter-of-factly "The U.S. government has lost all its credibility, so it's borrowing some of mine."

Carefully note at the end that after Homer has destroyed and restored his family and saved Springfield from the fate he himself caused, the surviving town is still rubble.

You don't suppose Groening and Co. are telling us that's what happens when all our fates are in the hands of idiots, do you?



"The Simpsons Movie"

Review: 3 1/2 stars (Out of 4)

Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Harry Shearer, Hank Azaria and Tom Hanks do the voices as Homer's sudden love for a pet pig wreaks havoc on his family and the town of Springfield itself. Directed by David Silverman. Rated PG-13. Opening at midnight tonight in area theaters.


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