As you’d expect from the creators of South Park, Team America is shocking, funny, and socio-politically astute. The film itself didn’t live up to my great expectations. But it’s still an edgy and sharp-witted parody — of the redneck right, the reactionary left, and especially of the all-American action movie genre.
Fighting Terror Wherever It Hides
R for language, nudity, violence, sex (all with puppets)
Four mercenaries make up Team America, and they fight terror wherever it rears its ugly head. Their white-haired leader Spottswoode (with the voice of Daran Norris, sounding suspiciously like Futurama’s Zap Branagan) and their supercomputer I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E. man HQ inside Mount Rushmore.
An opening vignette shows Team America kicking terror’s ass in Paris, France (and only destroying a few landmarks in the process). But terror isn’t that easily stopped, and in order to fight it, Team America is going to need the power of acting. They recruit Gary, the lead in the hit Broadway show “Lease” to help them infiltrate the terrorist network.
And while the team fights its own internal struggles — whether dating is okay within the organization, Chris’s lifelong mistrust of actors, and whether Lisa will choose Gary over Joe — the head of worldwide terror, Kim Jong Il, is preparing a “peace” conference to be attended by all the world’s leaders, lured to North Korea by the gullible Alec Baldwin and his Film Actors Guild. Only Team America can stop Kim Jong Il and his diabolical plan.
Strings Definitely Attached
By now you know that Team America is a puppet movie. All the characters are marionettes, except for the shark that attacks Hans Blix and the pumas that Kim Jong Il unleashes on our heroes. Coming from Parker and Stone, who decided to make cartoons using paper cutouts because they admitted they couldn’t draw, marionettes seem like a logical leap to “live action” filmmaking.
The marionettes are surprisingly successful. On the one hand, as puppets, they deflate action movie cliches and earn offensive laughs by “weeping” at monuments for real dead Americans. On the other hand, they are expressive enough that the movie’s many closeups actually convey a lot of emotion. Obviously they’re not good at subtle emotion, but what action movie calls for that?
And of course with Parker and Stone behind the strings, these puppets earn their R rating. Language, “nudity,” graphic “sex,” gore, and one horrific spasm of vomiting make this a movie parents will not want to have to explain to their kids.
Parker is also a composer of some merit. As with the South Park movie Parker and Marc Shaiman wrote some doozies for Team America. I suppose the best one is called America, F**k Yeah!, a Jerry Bruckheimer-inspired anthem that works over just about any action-movie montage. Speaking of which, Montage is a convincing little ditty that works over the movie’s A-Team-like montage. The least funny song is the one that tries too hard, a ballad called something like Pearl Harbor Sucked and I Miss You.
Even without lyrics, the action-movie score is so spot-on that you’d be hard pressed to say whether it was a parody or genuine, which makes it all the funnier when you hear the orchestra swell.
As enjoyable as Team America is, I left the theater with a nagging complaint that I think I have finally put my finger on. The film pokes fun at actors who get involved in politics. But coming from Parker and Stone, those jokes are disingenuous. After all, they rushed to get Team America into theaters before the election. And their own critique of American foreign policy is pretty observant. Does the fact that they’re filmmakers disqualify them from the public debate? Of course not. So it seems hypocritical to make the Baldwins, Sarandons, and Robbinses, into targets for talking politics when Parker and Stone do the very same thing — in the very same forum where they level their own criticism at others.
I might also complain that the joke wears thin after a while. Team America’s Kim Jong Il is the same villain as South Park’s Saddam Hussein. Toward the end, some of the jokes start to repeat. But Team America is short enough, at 105 minutes, that it never bogs down. And the good in the film far outweighs the bad. Parker and Stone continue to shock and amuse, and as always, most of their cutting jokes hit their targets with deadly accuracy.