Team America: World Police

on October 15, 2004 by Wade Major
Timed to let the hot air out of the 2004 political season just as it begins to gather, the hilariously brilliant "Team America: World Police" is bound to be greeted with the same mixture of cheers and jeers as the rest of Trey Parker's and Matt Stone's oeuvre. Not that this should come as a surprise--from "Cannibal: The Musical" to "South Park" and everything between, Parker and Stone have pioneered a style of satire that remains uniquely their own--simultaneously bright and adolescent; unswervingly incisive yet gleefully potty-mouthed.

Starring a cast comprised entirely of marionettes, "Team America: World Police" takes its inspiration from the so-called "Supermarionation" series of British television producer Gerry Anderson, with "Thunderbirds" (itself recently made as a lackluster live-action feature) the most obvious model. But where the Thunderbirds were essentially a rescue operation, Team America is all about killing terrorists. No matter the cost. No matter the hurdles. No matter the consequences. Comprised of three square-jawed action hero guys and a pair of butt-kicking, gun-toting gals (one of whom is empathic), they'll bring their arsenal of star-spangled weapons anywhere and wreak all manner of havoc just so long as they keep the world safe from those hairy Middle Eastern towel-heads (the movie's tongue-in-cheek epithets) and their WMD.

Unbeknown to the team, however, the real terrorist puppeteer--so to speak--isn't Osama Bin Laden or even Saddam Hussein (whom they previously savaged in "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut") but North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, who is about to hatch a devious plot to destroy civilization with the help of such politically vocal Hollywood liberals as Alec Baldwin, Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and filmmaker Michael Moore, among others. But to coalesce as a team and fight the threat, they'll first have to manage the personality and relationship conflicts within, mostly centering around the newest member, a former Broadway stage actor named Gary.

Team America: World Police Voices from the left and right have already protested the film and/or filmmakers for making light of otherwise serious fare, clearly oblivious to the fact that what most seems to annoy Parker, Stone and co-writer Pam Brady (with whom they also wrote "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut") isn't anything political so much as people who simply take themselves too seriously. The most vicious barbs, in fact, are often more cultural than political, wallowing in wanton homophobia, ethnic stereotyping, overt sex and extreme violence as if daring filmgoers to walk out unoffended. It's an approach which continues to touch a nerve with the MPAA ratings board who, in an inconceivably absurd spat that recalled a similar clash over the "South Park" movie, forced cuts on the picture by threatening to slap it with an NC-17 for nothing more than a prolonged sex scene between--get this--naked puppets.

But there is also more going on here than just juvenile shock cinema. Parker, Stone and Brady have worked in a more subtle thematic through-line, succinctly summed up in a brilliant sexual and scatological analogy that's as crude as it is truthful.

As with "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut," Parker has assumed directing chores and divvied up the bulk of the voices with Stone (no wonder, then, that Kim Jong-Il sounds an awful lot like Cartman on "South Park"), rounding out the vocal casting with such notable talents as Daran Norris and renowned radio prank man Phil Hendrie. In terms of logistics and overall filmmaking, this is a quantum leap over anything the team has previously attempted. Parker ably handles the daunting, painstaking logistics of working with marionettes and miniatures, while adding yet another sensational array of songs, almost all of which he either wrote, co-wrote and/or performs. It may, in fact, constitute the most memorable song score of any film since "The Lion King," although it'll be the adults, not the kids, wanting this soundtrack for Christmas. Voiced by Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Kristen Miller, Masasa, Daran Norris, Phil Hendrie and Maurice LaMarche. Directed by Trey Parker. Written by Trey Parker & Matt Stone & Pam Brady. Produced by Scott Rudin, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. A Paramount release. Comedy. Rated R for graphic crude and sexual humor, violent images & strong language--all involving puppets. Running time: 98 min

Tags: Voiced by Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Kristen Miller, Masasa, Daran Norris, Phil Hendrie and Maurice LaMarche. Directed by Trey Parker. Written by Trey Parker & Matt Stone, Pam Brady, Produced by Scott Rudin, Trey Parker, Paramount, Comedy

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