Team America: World Police

Grossly offensive all-action puppet outing, which is largely why you'll love it or hate it.

Released in 2004, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 14 Jan 2005 by Scott Morris
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Not so much rapier-like satire as it is carpet-bombing with nuclear warhead-level sarcasm, Team America - World Police sees a star spangled special forces team take on the might of global terrorism, secretly funded and supplied with Weapons of Mass Destruction by the sinister North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. After Team member Carson's death at the hands of a terrorist during an explosive mission in the heart of Paris, they need a new recruit. One who can infiltrate the terrorist networks to uncover the latest threat to American corporate interests. Sorry, latest threat to World Peace. Who better than the hottest actor on Broadway, Gary Johnston? Eventually convinced by Team America leader Spottswoode (Daran Norris) to sign up in defense of Freedom for all, whether they want it or not, they head off to save the world again from terrorism and the misplaced ideals of anti-Team America protesters, the Film Actors Guild (F.A.G, hoho) headed by Alec Baldwin (Parker again). Incidentally, if anyone knows what these guys have against the Baldwin tribe we'd be grateful for the heads-up.

The rest of the plot revolves around the usual trials, tribulations and crises of confidence usually found in vapid actioners of this nature, the primary difference being that it's a bunch of puppets doling out lead salads this time round. Yeah, puppets. South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone channel Thunderbirds to create an expletive laden, explosion packin', gun totin' slice of action of the sort that you'd commonly find in the multiplex circa Ton Gun, the kind of movie that were in conceptually possible would be driving around in a pickup truck with a brewski, firing a Colt .45 in the air shouting "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!". Except with puppets. And musical numbers. And projectile vomiting. And a sex scene apparently so pornographic the MPAA were going to slap an NC-17 on it before cuts were made, despite the wood being on display being of entirely the wrong kind for all but a slender sliver of obscure fetishists to find arousing. And damned if it isn't all very funny.

Not that everyone will think so, of course. This is guaranteed to offend the easily offended, and indeed was created for pretty much that reason. You've no doubt seen the trailers by this point, and if this is the kind of thing the gets your goat you're not exactly going to want to see it, unless you're happy being angry at things. If, however, you like this sort of thing then this is certainly the sort of thing you'll like. Following the South Park movie's blend of tremendously funny musical bits and not-quite-as-funny storytelling, this probably won't surprise too many people and if you chuckled when first told of the concept by all means go see it, you'll have a blast. I certainly did. As this is one movie that doesn't really need anyone to do a review of it to help anyone make their mind up whether to see it or not, y'all might as well stop reading now and head to the cinema in an orderly fashion. What follow is a slender and somewhat pretentious attempt at answering points other people have brought up about it that I believe count as misinformation, but what do I know? Well, quite a lot actually, and I've got lots of bits of paper to prove it. That none of these have owt to do with movies is an entirely different matter.

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Everyone seems to be focussing in on this as some great political statement on Trey Parker and Matt Stone's part, but I'm not too sure that's the right way to look at Team America. At the core of it's being this is a parody of brainless action flicks of the late eighties / early nineties era when Jerry Bruckheimer was blowing up absolutely everything in the name of big budget blockbusters, before the genre withered into the Diet Action™ pish that we're stuck with today (see S.W.A.T. for an example of the latter, The Rock for former). In those heady, largely plot free days 'middle eastern' was a handy shorthand for 'evil terrorist scumbag', saving time having to do dull things like exposition and motivation before busting out the Ford C4 Explodalots. Sounds daft but was more widespread than you'd care to admit, and yes True Lies, we are looking at you. And also that one where Poirot is a terrorist. Executive Decision, I think.

If the way terrorism is treated in Team America, which is basically a repetition of the glib way it was treated in dumb Hollywood action movies is now seen by many as a legitimate comment on the way terrorism is now being treated by the media, I'm terrified. This can only mean that 'legitimate' journalism has reduced itself to the hackneyed knee jerk jingoism of B-level scripts kicking around over a decade ago, and thinking about it that doesn't seem too unfair a statement. Everything in Team America is painted in cliches a mile wide, from Spottswoode's initial introduction of why the terrorists are after the U.S. (basically boiling down to 'they hate freedom', a nice slogan that ignores decades of political jerrymandering and covert / not so covert warmongering forming said attitudes) to the attitudes of the anti-Team America (read: anti war) protestors.

Taking pot shots at actors is something of an easy target yet somewhat unjustified. After all, they're as entitled to their opinions on foreign policy or any other matter just as much as anyone else is. What they aren't entitled to is to have those opinions taken any more seriously than any other layman spouting off, celebrity status or not. In this case, and this case alone it's perhaps making a worthwhile statement, it's worth reminding some of the slacker jawed amongst us that being successful in one field does not confer success or knowledge in unrelated fields. Why should anyone care what Sean Penn thinks about, well anything, let alone Iraq?

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From a bit of scouting around the InterWeb in the course of researching this review there's one startling fact that may confer minor work of genius status on Team America. No matter what side of the political fence your sitting on it's possible to hold Team America up as supporting your views, as long as you 'accidentally' miss some other aspect of the flick which scuppers it. I've seen it called one of the most patriotic films of recent times, which is quite staggeringly incorrect. Witness how the Team always destroy what they seek to protect, and the full length version of the theme tune America - Fuck Yeah goes on to list a few things the country can't be too proud of. More liberal chappies point at the above fact to show how it's got their back, skipping over the tank hopelessness of the arguments that everything can be solved by fluffy bunnies and group hugs. In real life there are no such easy answers, no black and white choices, and even if there were a silly puppet show with pyrotechnics isn't the place to be looking for them. That such debate can be provoked from a film which I'm fairly sure was only made so the Parker/Stone pairing could shoot a marionette sex scene is really quite remarkable, though whether it was strictly their intention to do so is another debate entirely.

In fact, it's a bit difficult to see exactly where the creators stand on the issue. It paints something of a depressing picture, both sides of the argument being equally ridiculous. With so much scorn poured on everything if you stop to think about Team America it's painting a rather nihilistic portrait of American politics and opinions. I am, however, rather over intellectualising a daft little puppet comedy. While longer seems to have been spent on the impressive puppets than the script, which does rely rather too much on swearing and bodily fluids, it's still immensely funny on a first viewing as long as you're expecting this kind of onslaught. If you aren't, well, there's something wrong with you, Parker and Stone have made known the fact they're out to offend as many people as possible on many occasions and their latest goes some way towards that goal.

Team America is, of course, flawed up the wazoo. In particular this movie suffers on repeat viewing, although I still chuckle at thinking of some of the lines even as I type this. Giant socialist weasel, indeed. Anyway, quite a few of the bigger and better crafted gags come from the soundtrack making this a very rare movie where the soundtrack CD may be a better purchase than the DVD. There's a solid case for marking this film down on any number of reasons but it made me laugh, dammit, and that's all I really ask for from a silly comedy. I choose to waive the recently decreed 'automatic mark down for including a Matrix parody' rule on the basis that it has some relevance to the subject matter (the whole movie is an action movie parody), rather than appearing in a rom-com or something. Any complaints on this matter should be forwarded to the usual address.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.

Trey Parker
Cast list:
Trey Parker (Gary Johnston / Joe / Hans Blix / Kim Jong Il / Carson / Drunk / Tim Robbins / Sean Penn / Michael Moore / Helen Hunt)
Matt Stone (Chris / George Clooney / Others)
Kristen Miller (Lisa)
Masasa (Sarah)
Daran Norris (Spottswoode)
Phil Hendrie (Intelligence)
Maurice LaMarche (Alec Baldwin)
Chelsea Magritte (French Mother)
Jeremy Shada (Jean Francois)
Fred Tatasciore (Samuel L. Jackson)