Review Written by: Bill Slocum
What the MPAA Rating should be: R (for language, violence and some sexual content)
Directed by: Trey Parker
Written by: Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Pam Grady
Produced by: Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Pam Grady
Starring: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Kristen Miller, Daran Norris, Maurice LaMarche
Studio: Paramount Pictures
When the world is threatened by global terrorism and the machinations of a homicidal madman who can't pronounce his Rs, the United States calls on an elite team to save the day, figures who stand tall even if that means only two feet high and suspended with puppet wires.
Team America: World Police
takes the threat of al-Qaeda and global qualms about the U.S. promoting order and poke acerbic, crude fun at the whole thing, replacing actors with marionettes and reducing everything to one-third life size. Director Trey Parker and his writing partner Matt Stone prove that even 9/11 won't get in the way of a good gay or poop joke. It's one way to strike a blow for freedom, though not a guarantee of great comedy, even for the South Park
I admit I watched South Park: Bigger, Longer, And Uncut
six years ago with the hope I wouldn't like it. The series was a guilty pleasure, but the review in Entertainment Weekly made the movie sound like the greatest satire ever filmed, something I found irksome. To my short-sighted disappointment, the film was great, one of those rare movies that made you laugh from beginning to end, yet gave you ideas to chew on about censorship and obscenity, not to mention some super songs.
I was disappointed seeing Team America
, too, for a completely different reason. This time I was rooting for Parker and Stone, especially after they took early heat from the Left despite the fact they clearly made fun of the neo-cons, too. Alas, this time it WAS a disappointment. The songs here are funny, if not as melodically solid as with South Park
– "Up There" would be a killer number in any musical. The humour starts out strong but wilts after ten minutes, giving you moments here and there but a lot of dead air, too. Maurice LaMarche nails Alec Baldwin, though that also points up the weakness in Parker and Stone's voice work playing everyone else. Worst of all, I never got the sense there was any underlying point to this film, to all the vulgarity and crudity being poured onto my lap, other than Parker and Stone wanting to show they had the cahones to do it.
Even the funniest moments have weaknesses. When we first meet Gary Johnston, the main character, he is performing in the Broadway musical "Lease" with a showstopper finale: "Everyone Has AIDS." That provides anti-PC humor at its best ["My grandma and my dog Ole Blue/The Pope has got it and so do you/C'mon everybody we got quiltin' to do"] but not exactly freshest; the red AIDS ribbon that rises up off the stage like a disco ball feels like a '90s throwback because it is, just like the Jerry Bruckheimer movies that the film parodies throughout.
When the material is more current, it's scarcely better. I admire any movie made in 2004 that makes fun of Michael Moore, but the satirists can't manage to do anything more with him than blow him up, which not only misses the point of Moore's cultural relevance but makes him more heroic than anything else, someone willing to die for his convictions rather than make money off them. Similarly, the assorted killing of left-leaning movie stars (as well as people like Liv Tyler and Samuel L. Jackson, who aren't especially political but apparently fun to kill in the Parker/Stone mindset) has zero satirical value and just bogs down the story.
The anti-PC vibe in Bigger, Longer And Uncut
was a source of strength. Here, it feels dated. Having Kim Jong-Il talk like a Catskills impersonation from the 1950s works for a minute, but it doesn't go anywhere, and his "I'm So Ronree" number sags from beginning to end.
That said, the film does make you laugh and the puppet production work is ingenious enough to make the film worth seeing for that alone. But given the heavy issues it plays with and the comedic talent involved, I had hopes for something more than a middling, infantile comedy that presents swearing puppets and scatological sex as cutting-edge comedy.
The puppets star in Trey Parker's satirical Team America: World Police.