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Team America:
World Police

After watching 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.

Brilliantly 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?

Perhaps, but 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 to save.

Conversely, 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.

Strangely, they're 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 impossible.


Derek McCaw

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