It took nine modified submissions before Trey Parker & Matt Stone could convince the MPAA to give Team America: World Police an R rating. Why was the MPAA so eager to slap the film with an NC-17? Explicit sex. Explicit sex between two absolutely neuter puppets. Team America hits theaters without its most salacious sex moments, but what remains is a wild simulated puppet sex romp the likes of which you’ve never seen on a movie screen. In a way, maybe the MPAA’s objection to simulated marionette love making is a compliment to the Team America crew. They’ve done such an amazing job with their puppets that what they came up with, no matter how ridiculous, hits pretty close to home. It’s not just offensive; it’s gleefully demented in way that ought to be soundly embraced.
The marionettes by the way aren’t just a gag. This really is a movie containing nothing but wooden actors, and I’m not talking Bill Paxton. It opens with a puppet version of Paris, where terrorists are plotting to do something horrible with a WMD, made obvious by the little blinking light on top of the briefcase they carry. Enter Team America, a collection of red, white, and blue super cops bent on saving the day and shouting painful action-movie cliché’s like, “Hey terrorist… terrorize this!” In their efforts to stop the terrorists, they end up destroying the Eiffel Tower, smashing the Louvre, and in general doing more damage to the city than the terrorists themselves could have done. Yet standing amidst the flaming wreckage of what was once France’s greatest city, they’re completely unaware of the damage they’ve wrought, so much so that team member Carson takes this as an opportunity to propose marriage to teammate Lisa. The guys of Team America aren’t heroes exactly. Their answer to any problem seems to be randomly blowing things up.
Satirizing big Hollywood action movies is only a launching platform for Team America creators Trey and Matt to lash out with the same biting wit they’ve been honing on Comedy Central’s “South Park” all these years. The strange thing is that even though they’re lampooning the big budget action movie, director Trey Parker displays a pretty keen eye for capturing wild, explosion ridden action. Sure, they’re using nothing but models, but they’re awfully good models and Trey has a real flair for getting the most bang for his buck. It’s a scary thought, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Parker try his hand at an actual Jerry Bruckheimer production. He’s bound to come up with something better than Bad Boys II.
Once Paris has been obliterated, we’re introduced to Gary Johnston, an actor in the middle of a Broadway musical. The first time we see him he’s performing a jazzy little song and dance routine called “Everyone Has AIDS”, which if the rest of this review doesn’t, ought to give you at least some idea of what you’re in for if you see Team America. After the show, he’s approached by Team America’s aged leader Spottswoode, a Bosworth like character who can’t seem to stop his chair from sliding all over the floor. Team America needs an actor to use his acting on the terrorists, and they’ve heard that Gary is the best.
After an extended montage in which Gary visits various national monuments to pump up his patriotic fervor, he joins the team as they battle Korean dictator Kim Jong Il and a bunch of Hollywood actors who have formed an organization called the Film Actors Guild or F.A.G. for short. Kim Jong Il is sort of a cross between “South Park’s” Cartman and Dr. Evil. He’s by far the film’s funniest character, particularly during his musical number. F.A.G. on the other hand is headed up by Alec Baldwin and other names like Janeane Garofalo and Matt Damon, none of whom are likely to be at all happy to find their names and faces appropriated for this movie.
It’s not just the broad, sweeping satire of Hollywood, the government, country music, liberals, conservatives, and well, everything that makes Team America flat out funny. It’s also the little details which they work in around the satire that keep the uncomfortable laughs coming. There’s a rip-off of the Mos Eisley cantina in a random desert Arab country, complete with a terrorist band playing something intentionally similar to the Star Wars cantina riff. There’s the way the puppets often seem themselves to be saddened by their own string-induced limitations. Or better still there’s a background song that is in fact a scathing musical movie review of Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor, substituted for a song about relationships.
Team America: World Police is a visually striking film that happens to contain puppets. It’s detailed and colorful, a truly cinematic presentation despite having sets built entirely out of marionette sized models. The movie is even at times sickeningly gory. Since they’re using puppets, Parker isn’t content simply to have a puppet punched in the face. Why not have the top of his head fly off as well? The jokes are keen-edged and will probably be painful to the folks Trey and Matt are targeting, but then that’s as it should be. Despite a few lulls the movie is strong enough to keep right on building laughs through to the end. It’s a delightfully vicious film that’s bound to piss off everyone. At least Fahrenheit 9/11 had a guaranteed group of Bush hating fans. Team America: World Police has no such luxury. They’re poking their sharp stick into everything, and it pays off.