Team America: World Police (2004) / Comedy-Action
MPAA Rated: R for puppet sex, pervasive language, sexual references, crude humor and violence
Running Time: 98 min.
Cast: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Kristen Miller, Masasa, Daran Norris, Phil Hendrie, Maurice LaMarche
Director: Trey Parker
Screenplay: Pam Brady, Trey Parker, Matt Stone
Review published October 18, 2004
Funny? Sure, but only occasionally, in this take-off on the old TV show, "Thunderbirds", updated for this post-9/11 climate. From the minds behind the animated series, "South Park", Matt Stone and Trey Parker (BASEketball), comes Team America: World Police, a movie that one can only truly appreciate for the small hilarious moments than as a unified and cohesive whole. While I will admit that I liked the idea behind the all-marionette adventure, and that I did get a few belly laughs, I came away from this one almost as disappointed as I had been for their previous effort, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut for the exact same reason. What works in the confines of a half hour television show just isn't enough to sustain a full length feature before tedium sets in.
This is a fairly broad satire about a crew of "freedom fighters" called Team America, a US government operation to fight terrorism around the globe and preserve the American way. It seems the terrorists are becoming more tenacious in their efforts, acquiring WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction), and all signs point to the mad leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Il, as the mastermind. For their latest mission, Team America recruits a famous stage actor, Gary Johnston, to pose as a terrorist, thwart the weapons sales effort, and infiltrate the plans for world destruction before it's hatched.
Team America is a very unfocused effort by Stone and Parker, who seemingly have only one real mission: to make fun of everyone and everything in a style so mean-spirited, you have to laugh at the sheer audaciousness of the cruelty. I'll admit, it's kind of funny in that mode for a while, but after you've seen the first few marionettes riddled with bullets or blown up, you become inured to it soon after. After that, no amount of shock value really suffices, as the envelope of good taste is pushed to the limits while watching puppet sex, prolonged vomiting, and a river of bloody wooden carnage displayed in escalating degrees of graphicness.
At the same time that they spoof the war on terror, both for and against, Team America is also a satire on the films of Jerry Bruckheimer, lifting schmaltzy romance, gung ho fighting, and superficial patriotism straight out of some of the movies he has come to be known for, like Top Gun. The song ridiculing Pearl Harbor gave me the biggest laugh, which goes to show that Stone and Parker do have the ability to actually make fun of something without injecting bodily fluids into the equation, although they don't afford us the luxury of this subtlety often. Take-offs on Star Wars and The Matrix films provide some of the more memorable moments.
Although it is a satire, many on the left will feel the film is anti-war, while those on the right will champion it as pro-America, anti-liberal. Yes, it is both at once, but make no mistake, the men behind the film are mostly out to make fun of all factions -- whatever will produce the biggest laughs is their target. As such, your mileage will definitely vary, and those with a high tolerance for scatological humor for extended durations will like this much more than I did. My personal belief is that Team America would have been a terrific short film, perhaps a classic in its own time, but doesn't have the juice to sustain its high level of hilarity for long. All you get is a burst of inspiration followed by extended scenes of soap opera antics and jokes that get recycled time and again throughout the course of the movie.
©2004 Vince Leo