Review: Team America: World Police

This impertinent film benefits from a swashbuckling silliness that matches Gerry Anderson’s mid-’60s cult series Thunderbirds.

Team America: World Police
Photo: Paramount Pictures

Despite their standing as the preeminent purveyors of aggressive, impolite vulgarity, Trey Parker and Matt Stone (the masterminds behind TV’s South Park) continue to prove themselves enthusiastic devotees of traditional cinematic genres. Whereas South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut playfully adhered to the exaggerated song-and-dance formulas of classic Hollywood musicals, their newest effort—the unconditionally offensive Team America: World Police—gleefully skewers bloated Jerry Bruckheimer-produced blockbusters like The Rock and Armageddon with a cast comprised entirely of puppets. A scathing satire of moronic action movies and current world politics that blisteringly abuses liberals, conservatives, and every foreign culture imaginable, this balls-to-the-wall comedy begins with a musical number titled “Everyone Has AIDS,” ends with a traumatic story about one Team America member’s childhood rape at the hands of Mr. Mistoffolees from Broadway’s Cats, and, in between, features what may be the most sexually graphic love scene ever filmed between two naked, genitalia-challenged wooden marionettes.

Directed by Parker (who, along with Stone, performs many of the characters’ voices), the film concerns the titular Team America, a terrorist-fighting super-squad bent on stopping the proliferation and deployment of WMDs throughout the world. Led by a crazy elder statesman named Spottswoode, Team America is a grab bag of adventure movie caricatures—the all-American quarterback, the clairvoyant, the foul-mouthed badass, and the sexy heroine whose teammate and husband-to-be is shot down by a terrorist while in the act of proposing to her. To combat a new terrorist threat, Spottswoode recruits an acclaimed Broadway thespian named Gary to lead the team into battle, yet the globetrotting crime-fighters soon run into a two-pronged enemy when they discover that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il has teamed up with Hollywood’s Film Actors Guild (F.A.G.)—led by Alec Baldwin and including other liberal star puppets such as Sean Penn, Danny Glover, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, and George Clooney—to orchestrate an attack that’s “9/11 times 1,000.” Which, as we’re informed, is 911,000 (whatever that means).

As both a goofy homage to Gerry Anderson’s puppet-pioneering TV show Thunderbirds and a ruthless spoof of rock ‘em sock ‘em action spectacles, Parker and Stone’s impertinent film benefits from top-notch art design (note the great Times Square at the film’s outset) and a swashbuckling silliness that matches Anderson’s mid-’60s cult series. Mocking the stylistic tropes of cheesy Bay-Bruckheimer collaborations, the filmmakers utilize slow-motion, excessively corny dialogue, dramatic zooms, myriad explosions, and a bombastic score punctuated by self-referential ballads like “That’s Called A Montage.” Then, to hammer home their point, they even include a brazenly nasty, utterly hilarious third-act song titled “Pearl Harbor Sucked” (sample lyric: “All I’m trying to say is Pearl Harbor sucked, and I miss you.”). Though Parker and Stone’s spot-on replication is a joke that eventually wears thin, their lampoon is fortunately bolstered by self-deprecating ludicrousness—often involving the puppets’ limited range of motion and useless legs, which flop around beneath their torsos like withered appendages—and an unrelenting dose of crass nonsense, such as the sight of an inebriated Gary furiously vomiting in a dank alleyway.

Sure to be the least popular film in Hollywood movie-star circles, Team America mercilessly takes aim at those left-leaning actors and actresses who, during the past four years, have become regular mouthpieces for anti-Bush vitriol. In a film season dominated by rabid Bush-bashing, the film portrays a maniacal Tim Robbins and Sean Penn preaching pacifism before hypocritically taking up arms against Team America. By having Democratic film personalities align themselves with (and die extremely gruesome deaths fighting for) the megalomaniacal Kim Jong Il—conceived as a Cartman-esque tyrant who speaks in “Engrish” and finds life very “ronery” at the top—the filmmakers make clear their disdain for celebrities’ naïve pontificating about foreign policy. Yet Parker and Stone prove equally cognizant of the country’s cockiness in combating global terrorism, giving Team America an over-the-top gung-ho theme song titled “America, Fuck Yeah!” and repeatedly having the heroes rampage through foreign countries (each identified by their distance from America) like hamburger-loving bulls in a china shop, carelessly destroying the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Egyptian pyramids while trying to stop suitcase bomb-toting baddies. In fact, everyone is fair game, from Arabs (who speak make-believe gibberish that primarily consists of the word “jihad”) and world dignitaries (Hans Blix suffers a particular gruesome fate at the hands of a giant catfish) to overweight, hot-dog munching Michael Moore (labeled “a giant socialist weasel”).

At times, it seems as though the mischievous Parker and Stone’s principal goal is to make as many enemies (inside and outside of Hollywood) as possible, and some will undoubtedly—and perhaps justifiably—find Kim Jong Il’s mushy-mouthed Asian-American accent, the acronym “F.A.G,” and the film’s rampant use of Arab, French, and Latin American stereotypes tasteless and insulting. Still, the film’s rampaging, devil-may-care attitude and vicious skewering of both ends of the political spectrum is consistently riotous. Gary’s climactic speech to a U.N.-type assembly is quite possibly the most moronically profane metaphor ever committed to film (it’s certainly too filthy to recount in print), but the real revelation is that his raunchy argument for the justness of America’s war on terror—however incompetently and aggressively it may sometimes be waged—is one of moderate common sense. Lurking beneath Team America’s side-splitting exterior of nasty sex, ceaseless profanity, and martial arts mayhem is a levelheaded patriotism bereft of the right’s righteous militarism and the left’s pandering wishy-washiness. When coupled with lunacy like Kim Jong Il’s end-credits croon, “You are worthless, Alec Baldwin,” such sensibleness helps make Parker and Stone’s puppet-rific extravaganza the funniest, filthiest, and—as surprising as it may seem—shrewdest politically-minded film of this election year.

 Cast: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Kristen Miller, Daran Norris, Elle Russ, Stanley G. Sawicki, Dian Bachar, Phil Hendrie, Josiah D. Lee, Paul Louis, David Michie  Director: Trey Parker  Screenwriter: Pam Brady, Trey Parker, Matt Stone  Distributor: Paramount Pictures  Running Time: 98 min  Rating: R  Year: 2004  Buy: Video, Soundtrack

Nick Schager

Nick Schager is the entertainment critic for The Daily Beast. His work has also appeared in Variety, Esquire, The Village Voice, and other publications.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Previous Story

Review: P.S.

Next Story

Review: The Hunger