terrorists with terrorism: Team
America pauses among the smoking
ruins of Paris.
Directed by Trey Parker
Written and produced by Pam Brady, Trey Parker and
Featuring the voices of Trey Parker, Matt Stone,
Kristen Miller, Masasa, Daran Norris and Phil Hendrie
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.