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Movie Review
Team America: World Police


Director: Trey Parker
Cast: Trey Parker, Matt Stone

eviewing 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

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Posted 10/22/2004 - 10:23:57 AM by Ramsay:
 The only 'clever' part of Team America was how vulgar and obscene it was, but also knowing how to make that vulgarity and obscenity the funniest possible. There was no serious political message. There was no insult personally directed at any of one the celebrities made fun of in the movie any more than any others (even if Moore's depiction just so happened to be one of the funnier versions)--it was different than the depictions on the shows they've been doing for years. All's fair. This is the type of movie that nobody admits they liked, unless they don't care if they come off as immature and ignorant, or are actually trying for that depiction. I did like it though. I thought it was hilarious. And I don't consider myself immature or ignorant. --It was a puppet show.-- People are so afraid of making parody of "serious" matters. Maybe they are serious in reality, but this is comedy. I'll say it again: all's fair. The movie was hilarious--uncontrollably at times. And while I won't give any credit to "having balls" for making the film, it was clever. If it seems rushed or thrown together at parts, it's because --that worked--. That's what clever is, taking a situation and making it outrageous. I'm laughing just thinking about some of the puppet movement mechanics they mocked throughout the film. You don't rush a movie and have it work--it doesn't work that way. You don't say that was so terrible it was funny, and actually mean it. If it's funny, it's meant to be, and that's what Team America was.
Posted 10/22/2004 - 10:25:03 AM by Ramsay:
 no* different
Posted 10/22/2004 - 11:16:26 AM by AUnterberger:
 This is the type of movie that nobody admits they liked, unless they don't care if they come off as immature and ignorant, or are actually trying for that depiction. I don't think this is true at all--I think that this is the kind of movie that everyone would be scared to admit they didn't like, because it would make them seem smug or closed-minded for being so "above" Stone & Parker. I think that's the point the reviewer here was trying to make as well, and it's a frustrating point that I definitely agree with.
Posted 10/23/2004 - 03:38:48 PM by harlanhoyt:
 I think you're missing the main thrust of the movie, which is to satirize the ridiculous world view of Hollywood "action" movies. You'll notice that whenever Team America leaves the United States, a title comes on the screen indicating how far they are from the US. I don't think this is a throw away gag, but a real point they're trying to make. Most Americans have a view of the world based on the entertainment we've produced -- just as most of the rest of the world's view of America is based on the same source. When Team America shows up and blows up half of Paris or Cairo trying to get the at the terrorists with their "WMDs," they expect to be thanked like conquering heroes -- because that's what movies have taught them to expect. The movie spends its first two acts in an (almost) straight faced parody of action movie tropes. It quotes direct lines from movies like "Top Gun." Anyways, I think that's the point they're trying to get across.
Posted 10/23/2004 - 04:09:30 PM by djstandby:
 The idea Matt and Trey are making fun of by using the war on terror for their movie is the throwaway backdrops of action movies, not the war on terror itself. It is not a a movie with a political point, nor was it ever meant to. The only thing the movie does is laugh at how serious the entertainment industry and its participants take themselves.
Posted 10/24/2004 - 02:25:12 AM by Neo_Vincent:
 "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" Huh, but isn't that half of the comedy right there: Making fun of obvious ethnic (and character) stereotyes when you know that they're stereotypes?
Posted 10/24/2004 - 02:53:24 AM by wmurch3:
 I think someone told them that making fun of action movies has been done to death so they hurried up and threw some political content into it. I'll be the first to say a movie like this sucks without any reserve. The trap the reviewer was getting at, namely crapping on movies that are supposed to be stupid, is one I hope any reviewer would just ignore. Sandler movies are a perfect example of this trap. Just because a movie is supposed to be stupid doesn't make it any less so. If a prerequisite for viewing a movie is getting drunk, turning off your brain, or being high, then that movie probably sucks to begin with and shouldn't be making movie when movies that deserve to be made aren't.
Posted 10/25/2004 - 02:11:08 AM by mheumann:
 Yeah, but the soundtrack kicks ass, especially the wonderful song "The End of an Act," featuring the immortal line, "I miss you more than Michael Bey missed the mark when he made Pearl Harbor." Brilliant!
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