Movie Review
Team America: World Police
Director: Trey Parker
Cast: Trey Parker, Matt Stone

reviewing Team America: World Police for the New York Times, A.O. Scott briefly addressed the hazards of panning such a film: it’s impossible to lodge a valid criticism without looking like one of the movie’s targets.

For example, I could complain about its ethnic stereotypes, which are numerous and crude, but that would make me look like one of the Rainbow Coalition fruitcakes Team America vilifies. I could take issue with its hackneyed caricature of America’s war on terror, but then I would turn into one of the jingoistic crackpots that the filmmakers are trying to offend. I could roll my eyes at all the sophomoric butt humor, but that would make me a prude.

This is the genius of Team America, the latest effort by “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and for that reason it’s a much easier film to admire than it is to enjoy. Chances are you’ll appreciate the filmmakers’ balls without actually laughing at the film they’ve made.

On the driver's side, U2's Bono...

It pains me to say that, since “South Park” in recent years has become one of the best reasons to watch television. But Team America is a rush job, plain and simple. See, we’ve got an election coming, and they needed to get this out before November, when people will once again stop giving a shit about politics, or at least stop giving a shit so loudly.

Otherwise, Team America is only occasionally funny, and that’s being generous. Every joke is based on one of two premises: 1) all the characters are puppets, or 2) citizens of foreign countries speak differently than Americans do. Parker and Stone expend considerable energy alerting us to the fact that when people of Asian descent pronounce an English “L,” it sometimes sounds like an “R.” The film contains a musical number devoted entirely to this hilarious bit of geopolitical commentary. It’s about how lonely North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il is, and it’s called “I’m So Ronery.” Just try and stop your sides from splitting on that one.

Shucks, will ya look at that? They made me go and get all culturally sensitive. Granted, the satirical use of racial crudity can be effective (see basically any skit from “Chappelle’s Show”), but it helps if the coarseness is in service of some larger point. Here, it’s all for its own sake. Same thing with the sex scene, which was edited to avoid an NC-17 rating.

That’s sad because the premise is so rich. Loosely modeled after the old “Thunderbirds” TV show, Team America is a stop-motion film about a group of action-hero clichés, marionettes one and all, who live and work inside Mount Rushmore and fly all over the world to kill terrorists, usually taking out several city blocks in the process.

After the death of a team member, leader Spottswoode recruits Gary Johnston, a young Broadway actor, to help the group infiltrate terrorist networks. He uncovers a plot masterminded by Kim Jong Il to distribute WMDs to Islamic radicals. The dictator is joined in his nefarious scheme by a coalition of Hollywood liberals calling itself the Film Actors Guild, as in “FAG.”

Getting wood won't be a problem, har har...

This group, led by Alec Baldwin, Tim Robbins, Sean Penn, etc., become the film’s real villains, and they are disposed of in nasty ways. Parker and Stone reserve their harshest treatment for Michael Moore, with whom the filmmakers have a legitimate beef—Moore interviewed the two while making “Bowling for Columbine” and placed their footage before a “South Park”-style cartoon illustrating the history of the National Rifle Association, erroneously implying that they had made the cartoon—and Matt Damon, who is rendered so dumb he can only repeat his own name. Wonder how he got on their shit list.

Sure, it’s annoying when celebrities think an Academy Award somehow enables them to solve the world’s problems. But which is worse, ineptly waging a perpetual Orwellian war that has killed more civilians than the 9/11 attacks that provoked it, or publicly criticizing the actions of an overzealous administration? Parker and Stone think it’s the latter. Hollywood peaceniks deserve to get properly satirized, but here they just get shot and decapitated and eaten by cats. However, no actual Baldwins were harmed during the making of this film.

Team America isn’t without its charms. In many ways, it’s an impressive technical accomplishment. And as in South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, the musical numbers are hysterical. There’s “Lease,” a parody of “Rent,” which includes the song “Everybody has AIDS.” I guess that’s kinda funny. So is the recurring action-sequence music, “America, Fuck Yeah!” So is the montage sequence that illustrates, to music, the ridiculousness of montage sequences. It also answers some burning questions, such as: what does it look like when naked marionettes do anal?

Otherwise, Team America is little more than an absurd version of those windbag let’s-all-yell-about-politics cable punditry shows, in that it reduces the issues to their polar extremes and draws a thick line down the middle. Maybe that’s the point. But unlike its counterparts in other media, this movie tries to mock everything, but doesn’t effectively satirize anything. And with other options, such as The Onion or “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” just a mouse or remote click away, fans of the filmmakers will do better to stay home with a few episodes of “South Park,” any of which would be vastly funnier than Team America.

By: Troy Reimink
Published on: 2004-10-22
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