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With: (voices) Trey Parker, Matt Stone, etc.
Written by: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Pam Brady
Directed by: Trey Parker
MPAA Rating: Unrated/R for graphic crude and sexual humor, violent images and strong language - all involving puppets
Running Time: 98
Date: 10/11/2004
IMDB

Team America: World Police (2004)

3 Stars (out of 4)

String It On

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's not exactly clear whom Trey Parker and Matt Stone's TeamAmerica: World Police was supposed tooffend.

Their previous feature film, the magnificent South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999), took very specific aim at very specific targets with fearless abandon. It felt great to walk out of that movie, having exacted some measure of temporary revenge against the stupid powers that be.

Team America leaves one with a more ambiguous feeling. Perhaps it's because the film's chosen target has already been the subject of furious debate and satire. Barely anyone alive has a casual opinion of terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and America's gung-ho involvement in the world. Parker and Stone, however, appear to fall right in the middle, and thus pull their punches.

Another part of the problem may be the film's chosen format: the big-budget, brain-dead Jerry Bruckheimer action film, complete with a Giorgio Moroder-type song score. In order to keep the formula up, Parker and Stone kill precious long moments convincing us to care about their characters, when all we want to do is laugh.

The movie's main characters are not people and they're not cartoons. They're marionettes, a format that has rarely been used for feature films, at least since the Thunderbirds films. Parker and Stone go to great lengths to get lots of detail in their movie, but they also embrace the clunkiness of the puppets, allowing the "strings" to be shown, so to speak.

In one scene, two characters face off, ready for a precision kung-fu fight. When the battle begins, however, the puppets merely bang and crack into one another, as if two children were playing with dolls.

In another scene, the bad guys unleash two hungry "panthers" on our heroes, but the man-eaters turn out to be two ordinary black house cats.

The film tells the story of Team America, a secret battalion of trained operatives whose job consists of ridding the world of terrorists. When one of their number dies, the team leader, Spottswoode, recruits a top actor, Gary Johnston, to join them. His mission: to go undercover as a terrorist and discover their secret plan. His co-team members include the beautiful blonde Lisa (with whom Gary falls in love), the violent Chris, the aw-shucks Joe, and Sarah, the clairvoyant from Berkeley.

It turns out that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il is behind everything. He plans to blow up the world under the cover of a "peace conference." A handful of Hollywood actors join him for the conference and are brainwashed into helping him against Team America. And so our heroes must face off against Alec Baldwin, Samuel L. Jackson, Liv Tyler, Matt Damon, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Sean Penn, Helen Hunt, Janeane Garofalo, George Clooney and others. Apparently Stone and Parker and their staff performed all the voices. None of the real-life actors had anything to do with the film and their images were apparently used without permission. (Clooney, however, did provide a voice for South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut.)

Even Michael Moore turns up as a liberal wacko -- wielding a hot dog in each fist -- who attempts to shut down Team America. (Ironically, Matt Stone appeared in Moore's Bowling for Columbine.)

Probably most memorable are the film's bizarre songs, which have a 1980s, overproduced macho sound much like Kenny Loggins' "Danger Zone" from Top Gun. When we first meet Chris, he's performing on stage in the Broadway hit Lease and singing a song about how everyone has AIDS. (The phrase "AIDS" is repeated several dozen times in the song). Other songs include "America F--- Yeah," a song about how much Pearl Harbor sucked and the "montage" song, explaining how most of these kinds of films do the training sequence. Best of all -- and the only profanity-free song -- is Kim Jong Il's mournful "I'm Ronery," replacing all his "l's" with "r's."

Above all, the film is very funny, ranging from the liberal use of four-letter words (including the climactic speech that "explains" the movie's entire theme) to far more clever and elaborate gags. It also boasts the best and funniest vomit scene since Monty Python and the Meaning of Life.

To borrow a couple of phrases from the great "This Land" video on jibjab.com, Team America pits "liberal weenies" against "right wing nut jobs," and wants to know why we can't all just get along. At the same time, either side could use examples from the film to denounce the other side. We're all crazy, the film seems to say, and the sooner we all realize it the happier we'll be.

DVD Details: I watched Team America a second time on DVD and found that it doesn't hold up nearly as well as South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. It still has some funny bits, but it plays way too much like a right-wing fantasy movie; the filmmakers grow too attached to their characters and we're asked to believe in them. It's like watching Top Gun or Rambo without a sense of irony. Paramount has released the film in two DVD versions, the "R" rated theatrical version and the unrated version with an extended puppet sex scene. Extras include: seven making-of featurettes, ranging from 5 to 12 minutes (each consisting mostly of clips from the movie), puppet tests, outtakes and deleted scenes (including one hilarious bit), two trailers, animated storyboards and previews for other Paramount films. The movie comes mixed in either 5.1 or 2.0 surround sound, plus (ironically) a French-language track. It also comes with optional English and Spanish subtitles. There is no commentary track.

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