Team America - World Police
A bumbling band of renegade marionette Americans takes on North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il and Hollywood's uber-liberal, appropriately acronymic Film Actors Guild (gnuk, gnuk). If puppets doing it in the 69 position, hearing more than a few four-letter-words, a Top Gun-esque theme song and celebrities dying violent, graphic deaths is going to bother you, consider yourself forewarned.
The catchy chorus of ''Americaaaa f*** yeah!'' that bellows over an '80s guitar riff whenever our heroes in Team America take on turbaned terrorists, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il and Hollywood lefties, at the same time taking out the world's great landmarks with reckless abandon, brings to mind every lame Jerry Bruckheimer movie soundtrack ever made-and dovetails perfectly with the idea behind this latest lampooning of Washington and Hollywood by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. It goes a little like this: A five-member group of operatives working out of Mount Rushmore known as Team America--led by gray-haired, take-no-prisoners Spottswoode (slightly reminiscent of Robert Stack in Airplane!)--has uncovered a massive terrorist plan to destroy the world with WMDs. When one of their team is killed, Spottswoode finds his replacement in Gary, the star of the Broadway show L.E.A.S.E.: The Musical, and figures an actor who knows several languages will make just the right spy to successfully infiltrate the terrorist ring. So while Kim Jong Il is busy pulling the strings of Middle Eastern gun-toters and the Hollywood libs in F.A.G. (led by Alec Baldwin, the guild includes the usual suspects: Sean Penn, Janeane Garofalo, Tim Robbins, et.al.), Team America's busy dealing with high intrigue and inter-group romance.
Parker and Stone do most of the voices here (which explains why Kim Jong Il sounds an awful lot like South Park's Cartman), and it's everything you'd expect from that show's originators: subversive, hilarious, gleefully non-PC, and vulgar like vulgar you've never seen: When avoiding an NC-17 rating requires editing a puppet sex scene, there's a definite bar being lowered somewhere, and we suspect it's right here. Like little kids playing with toys, the filmmakers revel in their marionettes, joyfully sending them in to battle so they can bounce and flop against each other like drunken ragdolls or kill each other with glee in bloody shootouts. They make no bones about the purposely cheap-looking production that's similar to the '60s British series Thunderbirds; the puppets' strings are obvious and the ferocious ''panthers'' sicced upon two hapless celebs are just black housecats. Whatever your politics, both sides get pretty evenhanded treatment in the macho, jingoistic American Team that polices the world while destroying half of it, versus the inspired ridicule of outspoken, left-wing stars like Michael Moore, shown as a howling, mustard-covered loudmouth whom someone calls a ''giant socialist weasel'' and who blows himself up in a suicide mission to take down the Team. As well, the musical numbers are spot-on: ''I miss you more than Michael Bay missed the mark in Pearl Harbor/I need you like Ben Affleck needs acting school,'' sings Gary about Lisa, another Team America member. Sadly, Team America ultimately falters in the very places you'd expect it to fly. Given this particularly hot election year, with the particularly hot issue of the Iraq war, where are Dubya, John Kerry, Dick Chaney, Saddam? The celebrity parodies should be funny, but end up a letdown maybe it's that their lines aren't all that clever, or the fact that none of the puppets really look or sound like the stars they're supposed to be, but it's highly disappointing that these two typically fearless filmmakers would chicken out from giving both the left and the right a proper skewering. While the sets and production are truly an original work of genius and there are moments of sheer brilliance, these are largely overshadowed by gross-out gags for grossing-out's sake and overdone scenes that simply fall flat (the actors singing ''Everyone has AIDS!'' during the Broadway musical--not so funny. Gary laying in a green, chunky pond of his own vomit--not so funny). And that's the shame about Team America, which had tremendous potential and, after the outrageous irreverence of South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, had a lot to live up to--it misses the mark like Michael Bay in Pearl Harbor.
A movie for giggling, politically savvy homo-repressed teenage perverts, Team America is far from being as funny as it should be so it gets 2 stars--make it 3 if you sniff glue.