Movie review by Greg Carlson
The latest curiosity from Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the brash creators of “South Park,” is “Team America: World Police,” a “Thunderbirds”-esque marionette movie in which clunky puppets take the place of cut-out animation. Intended partially as a satire of Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer action movies and partially as a chaotic send-up of Hollywood hypocrisy, “Team America” delivers a handful of hearty laughs, but mostly misses its wide array of easy targets. Fans looking for a movie as sharp as “South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut” will surely be disappointed, as “Team America” hedges its bets by entirely ignoring the Bush administration. The result is a scattershot hodgepodge that commits the one sin for which it cannot be forgiven: it is often boring.
Hidden away inside a secret base on Mount Rushmore, Team America is an elite group of black ops commandos charged with ridding the world of terrorist threats. Never mind that the rough and ready crew usually ends up destroying treasures like the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and the Sphinx in the process. Accompanied by a rousing, profane theme song, the squad of super-agents is led by the dapper Spottswoode, a slightly unhinged mastermind with an inexplicable obsession with oral sex. Following the death of one of their own, Team America recruits stage actor Gary Johnston, a performer in the “Rent” parody “Lease,” where he sings “Everyone Has AIDS.”
Gary’s background in theatre and world languages makes him a natural for the team, so Spottswoode packs him off for the Middle East with the rest of the gang. Gary falls for another one of the team members, and their subsequent sex scene is among the movie’s highlights. The couple copulates in every position imaginable, wooden bodies and visible strings adding to the surrealism. The stuffy MPAA was so unsettled by the sight of two dolls going at it, they threatened an NC-17 rating. No doubt Paramount Pictures is already salivating over how much money the unrated version of the DVD will net.
“Team America” leisurely rolls around to a showdown involving Kim Jong Il and the Film Actors Guild, led by Alec Baldwin. The filmmakers save much of their venom for Tinseltown’s activists, and along with Baldwin, they skewer Sean Penn, Matt Damon, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins, among others. Parker and Stone grossly miscalculate the humor that their horrible voice acting generates; the impressions of celebrities are so intentionally bad as to become ineffectual. Parker even uses his Cartman voice for Kim Jong Il. What works with the kids of “South Park” does not work here. The movie would have been significantly better had Parker and Stone farmed out some of the “acting.”
Like “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut,” “Team America” resembles a musical, and some of the songs transcend the limitations of the phony action genre in which they are trapped. Marc Shaiman teams up with Parker once again, and the music works as the strongest element of the movie. One tune, “Freedom Isn’t Free,” is a hilarious send-up of the overwrought patriotism of Country music anthems, in the vein of Lee Greenwood and Toby Keith. In another ballad, the pranksters eviscerate Bay’s “Pearl Harbor.” Other than the songs, the movie occasionally capitalizes on its low-tech puppetry to generate visually arresting humor. House cats become vicious panthers, Gary blows chunks in what has to be one of cinema’s most sustained depictions of projectile vomiting, and a cockroach scurries into a spaceship and takes to the skies in the movie’s most memorable shot. “Team America” is not terribly satisfying, however, and unlike the “South Park” movie, it will not be remembered when Academy Awards nominations are made.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 10/18/04.