Team America: World Police
Directed by Trey Parker
Team America: World Police, a puppet show from the comedy team who created South Park – Trey Parker and Matt Stone – is a raunchy, irreverent political and social satire. I didn’t think it possible to make so much mirth out of the threat of global terror but the puppets of Team America do that and skewer the Hollywood establishment along the way. They not only satirize action movie clichés but actually name names – actors like Alex Baldwin, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, and Matt Damon are portrayed in a very unflattering light as air-headed left-wingers who become unwitting dupes for the head bad guy, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il. Not only does Team America present the actors as themselves but hits them where they live: their liberal political activism. As hard as the film hits liberals, conservatives are not spared – the Team America squad, the heroes in a comic sort of way, come across as a bunch of gun-blazing, commando-cowboys who often cause future problems as they go after the bad guys.
The main character is an actor-turned-commando named Gary who gets recruited off the stage of a Broadway musical (there are several hilarious musical numbers in Team America, by the way) to infiltrate a group of Mid-Eastern terrorists since only a good actor could do the job. He falls for one his fellow team members, Lisa, but loses her after having misgivings about the role of the team. Gary functions as the conscience of the film, in a clichéd sort of way – again satirizing all the action movies where the hero gives up for some reason, loses his girl, drinks too much, etc. -- before getting it back together just in the nick of time.
As a big fan of the South Park movie, I read quite a lot about this project in advance of seeing the film. I anticipated getting tired of the puppets after the first 20 minutes or so – I thought that it would take about that long for the novelty to wear off. I was pleasantly surprised to love the puppetry angle – even though they never looked like anything but puppets – strings and all. The faces are very well done – they capture the appropriate emotion to complement the scene. The puppetry also fit perfectly with the goofy satirical humor of Team America. The obviously unrealistic look of the production design as well as the puppets helped to make it easier to laugh at things like violent confrontations with terrorists, and blowing up landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Pyramids, the Panama Canal, and Mt. Rushmore. The look of a film is a really big deal for me and this film surprised me – it has a campy, cheesy look but that look works so well with the material that I can say that the movie couldn’t have been improved by more sophisticated visuals.
I can’t heap enough praise on the writing team of Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Pam Brady. A good comic script is surprisingly rare in Hollywood these days – there are obviously large amounts of money changing hands for mediocre, repetitive writing. The writing team went out on a limb by getting so tough on the politics of certain Hollywood actors – I have to commend not only the writers but also the executives at Paramount who allowed this film to be made. The political satire clearly steps on toes – powerful toes at that. Walking out of the theater from Team America the thing that hit me hardest is the nerve it took to poke fun at these left-leaning actors. And make no mistake, these writers didn’t take on random actors – they hit politically active, powerful Hollywood players. About the only line that these writers didn’t cross is referring to terrorists as Islamic – they’re swarthy and Mid-Eastern but there’s no religious reference.
Team America is not only full of surprisingly bold satire but some of the scenes reflect a great off-the-wall sense of humor – really going outside the envelope. Putting musical numbers in a film that satirizes action movies, for example. I laughed so hard at a song Gary sings skewering the movie Pearl Harbor -- as he laments that Lisa is lost. Also, there is a scene where the puppets are attacked by house cats – it just came out of the blue – I loved it.
About the only reservation I have about Team America is the language – they take profanity and absolutely push it to the wall. It’s a great script – like South Park in that respect, great but profane – but it is definitely an adult film. I am very curious as to how Team America will be received by both the box office – I expect it to do well – and the critical press, who may not be ready for this brazen a political satire.
Photographs are copyright Paramount Pictures.
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