Team America: World Police, you have to admit one
thing about American arrogance. Even in puppet form, it's
startlingly good-looking. That doesn't quite mollify the
foreign countries in which Team America blunders about,
destroying landmarks in the effort to save them from terrorists.
Not that you'll care; you're too busy laughing.
As rude and
tasteless as you'd expect, Team America: World Police
at least has the decency to offend everybody. We'd expect
no less from the South Park creators, and as in the
best episodes of that show, it's hard to walk away from
the movie and be able to articulate just what exactly their
own views are.
On the surface
a bizarre confusion of '80's action films and Gerry Anderson's
Supermarionimation t.v. series of the '60's, it's hard to
shake the feeling that there's an insidiously subversive
message pulsing underneath. It could be something terribly
political; then again, it could be agitprop for the rights
for gay puppets to marry.
opening with a puppet show within a puppet show, Team
America wastes no time getting into mindless action.
Terrorists gather in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, while
a chocolate-smeared tot skips awkwardly singing "Frere Jacques."
As his wood and latex face registers shock, the super-exciting
vehicles of Team America darken the sky.
You will recognize
every beat of the story, but not the twists Parker and Stone,
with help from scripter Pam Brady, put on it. Such action
films usually need a hotshot outsider to be brought onboard;
in this case, it's Gary Johnston (Parker), an "accomplished"
actor currently starring in Lease: The Musical. (Parker
and Stone, of course, completely destroy any respect left
for Rent with this movie. And Cats. And pretty
much everything else.)
So Gary has
a skill Team America needs - the power of acting. Of course,
one team member, Chris ("the finest martial artist in all
of Minnesota") has an unexplained beef against actors. Will
this tension tear the team apart?
not without a lot of mindless sex, violence and puppet puking
first. In fact, it's quite possible that 2004 will be the
year that proved there's nothing funnier than a puppet vomiting
violently, unless it's a monkey puppet vomiting violently.
A lot of people
will be offended by the content, and therein lies the irony
and occasionally creative brilliance of Parker and Stone.
The right will be offended by puppets making the beast with
two backs (and two heads and multiple body parts but strangely
no actual genitalia). That's if they even made it past the
overt idea that Americans do often destroy what they mean
the left will be offended by the notion that the world still
needs the Americans to try. (There's a strangely cogent
but obscene ideological political theory expressed by the
end.) Worse, liberal icons are held up for painful ridicule.
Some deserve it; some don't. Some have already expressed
that they don't find it funny, and it's one of the pokes
Parker and Stone take that, if sincere, feels forced as
a group of Hollywood actors end up being used as pawns by
Kim Jong Il Cartman.
But in the end,
all that matters is that it is funny. Some jokes
fall flat; despite its pedigree, Team America is
not the brilliant satire that South Park: Bigger, Longer
and Uncut was, partially because Parker and Stone muddle
their message. But just when you decide the joke of these
puppets being action stars has worn out its welcome, something
new happens that's jaw-droppingly funny.
not even all that good of puppeteers. That becomes part
of the joke. You can almost see above the screen to see
these guys building in frustration as they try to get the
puppets to do something correctly, then throw in the towel
as a tender love scene ends with a poke in the eye. That's
the best they could do. The power behind Team America, Spotswood
(Daran Norris), solves the problem by using a self-propelled
chair that seems to develop a mind of its own - a dead-on
jab at Anderson's shows.
Don't take the
politics seriously. Do laugh. And try to get their power
anthem, "America (F*** Yeah!)" out of your head. It's nearly