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‘Team America’
Lets Cynicism Rule the World

by Jeremy Mathews
Fighting terrorists with terrorism:  Team America pauses among the smoking ruins of Paris.  

“Team America: World Police”
Paramount Pictures
Directed by Trey Parker
Written and produced by Pam Brady, Trey Parker and Matt Stone
Featuring the voices of Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Kristen Miller, Masasa, Daran Norris and Phil Hendrie

(out of four)

Rated R

The Trey Parker and Matt Stone philosophy of comedy is that nothing is too offensive to be funny, but everything is funny if it’s offensive enough. The “South Park” creators have always been equal-opportunity offenders, picking fights with both sides. But with their new all-marionette action satire “Team America: World Police,” the balls-out offensive comedic style earns more laughs than the unfocused and bizarre stab at politics.

As a social satire, the film is so broad in its targets and so sloppy in its aim that it fails to say anything convincing. As a genre satire, the duo is much more capable of skewering the Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay brand of epic action soap opera trash.

The cast indeed consists of nothing but puppets, as inspired by the strange 1960s British sci-fi adventure TV series “Thunderbirds,” which had its own live-action cinematic adaptation flop this summer. The technique provides some realistic faces, but no real expression from the characters. It is indeed funny and serves as a clever commentary on the importance of actors over explosions in modern action film, and perhaps is saying that everyone is a puppet if you want to get more existential. But it also grows tiresome when you have to spend more than 90 minutes with emotionless figures.

Team America is a special task force that tracks down and kills terrorists before they can attack by blowing up pretty much everything that the terrorists want to destroy. True to the special-effects extravaganza tradition, all the landmarks in a given city that Team America enters are quickly destroyed by means of loud explosions.

To demonstrate their versatility, director Parker also puts his figures in a hot sex scene, which was edited prior to release to avoid an ‘NC-17’ rating. I can’t imagine what they cut out. The puppets aren’t anatomically correct, but they do have quite an imagination and a variety of positions.

Funnier than any puppet sex or model landmark explosions, however, is the assortment of ridiculous songs by Parker, with lyrics like “’Pearl Harbor’ sucks, and I miss you” and a description of the conventions of a montage played over a montage. Parker has a way of capturing styles while overriding them with preposterous lyrics, a method he uses in one song to movingly explain that the price of freedom is “a buck O five.”

But for every great song are several failed jokes. Actors including Alec Baldwin, Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Janeane Garofalo and Danny Glover are all mocked for speaking their mind, but the comedy shrinks flatter and flatter as the mocking grows more and more desperate. They are identified as members of the “Film Actors Guild,” whose acronym is FAG, get it? Perhaps worried that it will go over the audience’s head, the film hammers the joke in constantly, as it becomes less and less funny and more and more hateful. These actors are as free to speak their opinions as “Team America’s” filmmakers, and do so with a great deal more passion and precision than the film. Surely there are points to be made against the activism, but Parker and Stone simply bash them with little explanation.

The attack on these celebrities doesn’t quite sit right to those informed on current world affairs. In fact, many have criticized the Bush administration for concentrating on Iraq and Saddam Hussein instead of Kim Jong-Il, who couldn’t be taken down Team America style because he’s a nuclear threat. While the film is all fictionalized, it’s hard to pretend even in this context that the gung-ho war hawks are going to be any better at stopping him from destroying the world. A hawkish speech with sexual analogies is funny, but lacks substance, and the idea seems to be that there’s no real point in being involved in politics, an inexcusable stance in these tumultuous times.

“Team America” creates moments of undeniable hilarity, but balances them with forced and failed jokes, making it as difficult to defend at parts as it is hard not to laughs at others. The success of the genre parodies remind us that Parker and Stone are much sharper when they concentrate their energy wholeheartedly, but also emphasize the failure of the rest of the movie, making it difficult to recommend.

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