puppetsKristen Miller
Team America: World Police
Medium: film
Year: 2004
Director: Trey Parker
Writer: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Pam Brady
Keywords: comedy, musical, puppets
Country: USA, Germany
Actor: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Kristen Miller, Masasa Moyo, Daran Norris, Phil Hendrie, Maurice LaMarche, Chelsea Marguerite, Jeremy Shada, Fred Tatasciore
Format: 98 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0372588/
Website category: Comedy
Review date: 6 September 2009
When I saw this in the cinema, I thought it was great. Today, I often found it annoying. The problem is that Parker and Stone have written such a savage parody of irritating action movies that they've hit the target too well. The heroes are self-absorbed morons who keep blathering on about their feelings. It's all true. You'll recognise every word of it. The opening scene in Paris is almost brilliant in how it's nailed the cliches. Unfortunately after a while this started getting under my fingernails.
Maybe it depends what mood you're in when you watch it? You see, in many ways Parker and Stone are taking their story seriously. It's a full-blooded action movie, shot by the guy who was the director of photography for Spider-Man 2 and the Matrix sequels. In many ways it's actually better than a lot of non-parody action flicks, since the stunts and explosions are being done for real. You don't need to green-screen puppets. Similarly they're doing the right thing by their empty-headed plot and retarded heroes, playing their story as if it's life and death. They hardly had any choice, really, but unfortunately I ended up hating the entire cast. The whole lot of them needed a slap, or for preference shooting. I realise that's the whole point, but sweet heavens above. The film's a triumph when it's layering some other kind of joke on top, be it random destruction, swearing or even just a puppet puking its guts out. I'm not fussy. The vomiting scene is so puerile that it's brilliant. However if you've seen the film before, then too many scenes are merely exaggerated Hollywood wank.
Bloody hell, the hero's telling us about his feelings. Again. I DON'T CARE. I respect what Parker and Stone are doing, but I wish they'd let the facade slip a little in these scenes and let the camera drift away occasionally to look at something more interesting than their loser heroes.
However that said, I still admire the film. I loved it in the cinema and I suspect I'll enjoy it more again on a third viewing, when I know better what I'm letting myself in for. The film's got a rich array of gags, often gleefully childish. Team America's destruction of anything and everything never gets old. Their idea of undercover work (and disguise!) is unbelievable. "We have lost intelligence. I repeat, we have no intelligence." Even the exploding opening credits are funny. You've got blunt-instrument satire, but then on top of that you've got all the puppet gags. I remember the entire cinema losing it at the cat scene.
What's more, the film's more intelligent than it's trying to appear. In its deliberately offensive way, it's offering an oddly even-handed discussion of the touchiest political issue of 2004. Here you've got two Americans saying in a motion picture that America is retarded and that their attempts at policing the planet are farcical and/or self-destructive. If any other nation had made this movie, the American Right would have been declaring a fatwa. You can't possibly accuse them of soft-pedalling their gags, but they also present the other side of the argument by taking the piss out of North Korea, international terrorists and wishy-washy liberals. The Film Actors' Guild couldn't be a broader side-swipe at the rest of Hollywood if Parker and Stone were deliberately trying to burn their bridges. "Everyone has AIDS" is funny, but it's also exactly the kind of woolly-minded thinking that stinks of idiots jumping on politically correct bandwagons. The "dicks, pussies and arseholes" metaphor is a fairly even-handed political summation, underneath its elaborate obscenity. In the end, they end up uneasily supporting the gun-toting losers they've been lampooning and personally I'd have found it funnier if they'd gone even further. Can Team America save the world? Um, no. Let's have a Dr Strangelove ending!
Even the film's villain is more interesting than you'd expect. It's not just some generic towel-head, or even Saddam Hussein from the South Park movie. On the contrary, they've picked one of the world's last old-school Stalinist dictatorships, proper communists and in no way a natural ally of fundamentalist Islam. One of the most fascinating things on the DVD is actually the mini-documentary of them talking about the real Kim Jong-il, pointing out for instance that he loves show business and in the eighties personally organised a huge stage show for which he even wrote the songs. The third act of this film is in large part taken from life. He's also a huge film buff, with a collection of tens of thousands of movies, and apparently is a particular fan of Friday the 13th, James Bond, Rambo, Godzilla and the films of Elizabeth Taylor. Parker and Stone assume on the documentary that he will indeed watch Team America: World Police.
I don't know why it's doing Star Wars references, mind you.
I should probably mention Gerry Anderson at some point, although to be honest I'm not very familiar with his work. Besides, although it's true that Parker and Stone got the idea for doing this film from watching old episodes of Thunderbirds, what they eventually produced doesn't owe much of a debt to Anderson's work beyond the basic notion of "hey, let's do a puppet movie". Nonetheless I've been told by a long-time fan that this felt to them like a more affectionate tribute to Anderson's original series than the live-action Thunderbirds movie that also came out in 2004.
Team America: World Police is a deceptively clever film that's also having a lot of fun with the lowest kinds of gags too. It's a parody both of America's foreign policy and its action movies, with the songs being worthy of particular notice here. I'll applaud anyone who's bashing Michael Bay, while the "montage" number is open deconstruction. However if you ask me, the film's one genuinely offensive sequence is the one in which their hero puppet visits a bunch of real war memorials, as if Parker and Stone were trying to say that their deliberately shitty Hollywood heroism were as serious and important as the real thing. Note that the film they hate enough to bash in an entire song of its own isn't some piece of fluff like Armageddon (which they wanted to do as a puppet version but couldn't get the rights), but instead Pearl Harbour.
For my money, the South Park movie is better than this one, but less unique. How many comedy puppet films have there been, anyway?