TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE
Special US Service Team America boss Spottswoode (voice of Daran Norris) recruits actor Gary Johnston (Trey Parker) to infiltrate Middle East terrorists to avoid global catastrophe. The Team America unit has mixed feelings about Gary, ranging from nascent romance to nausea. When he makes a botch of it and walks away from the mission, the rest of the Team has to fight global terrorism without him - until he reconsiders and proves his dedication by sexual services to Spotswoode. Before the Team attacks the secret leader of the terrorists, North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il (Trey Parker), Gary seduces Lisa (Kristen Miller) and they have hot, multi-position sex. Kim Jong Il, meanwhile, has attracted the support of many leading actors from FAG (Film Actors Guild), including its head honcho, Alec Baldwin (Maurice LaMarche), Tim Robbins (Trey Parker), Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, Samuel L. Jackson and Matt Damon, among others.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Graphic, crude and sexual humour, violent images and strong language - all involving puppets - is cited as the reason for its restricted rating in the US; it will also be cited as the reason for its popularity with the young, the politically smart and the lovers of fearless satire that goes over the top, into subversive overdrive. Here, at last, is America's answer to the question, can't Americans do political satire. Yes, this team of Americans can, and it does it by tackling the most sensitive, dangerous and politically explosive subject on earth: the US declared war on terror. If you thought Life is Beautiful was in bad taste because it found humour in the Nazi death camps, you won't understand a single scene in this film. The whole point of humour, it's saving grace as Stephen Fry quipped, is that we can laugh at something while simultaneously take it seriously. Survival humour of the Jews, for example....
Team America opens in a small park near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, where a group of Arabs are plotting a bomb. Within a couple of economical minutes, the filmmakers ridicule the Arab terrorists, America's (often calamitous and clumsy) role as world police and the French who blunder about in self important angst.
The film immediately endears itself to me with this approach: ridicule is the most powerful weapon against the terrorists, and the likes of North Korea' Kim Jong Il. The fact they have found an inventive way to glue the various well meaning but pathetically ill-informed actors to this scenario is inspirational. And the way it is executed (ahem) is hilarious.
It is humour that really drives this enterprise, from the gross splatter elements to the gross, unwieldily sex scene between consenting puppets without private parts, which manages to be pornographic and innocent, voyeuristic and hilarious all at once. The filmmaking techniques are pretty impressive too, with nothing left to naturalism except the music. The puppets are marionettes (and Gary Johnston looks like a model of Kurt Russell), usually manipulated by obviously visible strings, and the props are models or effects. None of this is allowed to get in the way of the excess of angst-driven satire or punishing songs. There is a spectacular stage musical, for instance, in which we catch the big production number, AIDS. Everybody has AIDS. No, you can't imagine how this is blackly funny. It just is, because the team has dared to confront it and prick the balloon of fear, so it deflates. That's exactly what they do with terrorists: make them the subject of ridicule, not dread, by exposing their self-contradicting hatred as pointless nihilism.
The film's message - couched in vulgar metaphors but surprisingly apt - is spelt out very lucidly towards the end, by Gary of Team America: "We're dicks! We're reckless, arrogant, stupid dicks. And the Film Actors Guild are pussies. And Kim Jong Il is an asshole. Pussies don't like dicks because pussies get fucked by dicks. But dicks also fuck assholes. Assholes that just want to shit on everything. Pussies may think they can deal with assholes their way. But the only thing that can fuck an asshole is a dick, with some balls. The problem with dicks is they fuck too much or fuck when it isn't appropriate. And it takes a pussy to show them that. But sometimes pussies can be so full of shit that they become assholes themselves. Because pussies are an inch and half away from assholes. I don't know much about this crazy crazy world, but I do know this. If you don't let us fuck this asshole we're going to have our dicks and pussies all covered in shit."
Yes, crude and vulgar, but it colourfully summarises the puppets' position without risk of ambivalence. And it has certainly got up some American critics' noses, who perhaps are surprised that the creators of South Park took the satirical sickle to the left-leaning celebrities.
Review by Louise Keller:
If South Park is the kind of watch-it-and-squirm humour you like, try Team America: World Police for size. This unbridled satire on politics and world affairs from South Park makers Trey Parker and Matt Stone is joyously unrestrained, wildly cutting and puts the 'i' back into irreverence. There is an 'i' in the word 'believe' which is the film's underlying theme - that believing is all we have in this day and age of uncertainty and terror. But one character reckons 'there is no 'i' in Team America, as we learn that selflessness is the closest thing to godliness in this spoof on terrorism, world peace, America and the acting profession in general.
The puppeteers get top billing, above the voice cast, which features Parker in multiple roles. Multi-talented Parker also produced the film and wrote those unbelievably catchy lyrics to the songs that will have you shaking your head with disbelief. Who could imagine show-stoppers with themes such as a power-hungry Korean dictator suffering from 'roneriness', a stage-show called 'Lease' in which everyone is dying of AIDS, a love song that confides the movie Pearl Harbor sucks (as does Ben Affleck), and an ode to Alec Baldwin with the message 'You are worthless.'
It's notable that the strings of the marionettes are clearly in view throughout this 90 minute romp of action, romance and lust, a fact that no doubt is symbolic. But there are plenty of analogies in the film, that not only offer instant hoots of laughter, but food for more serious and provocative thought. The characters are stereotypical - the members of Team America are heroic types who put their country and mission before their personal needs and wants, the terrorists are Middle Eastern or Chechnyan with beards and turbans, the Mastermind is a fat, bespectacled Korean dictator and the actors are a bunch of sheep who look as though they have been put through a process of mind control.
The storyline centres around dark-haired, blue-eyed, handsome Gary, a highly acclaimed actor with a tragic backstory, who is recruited by Team America to pose as a terrorist and help them save the world. He falls in love with Lisa, who looks like Combat Barbie, much to Lucy Liu look-alike Sarah's disgust, because she rather fancies Gary too. But then Sarah realises her decent country-boy colleague Joe is probably more her cup of tea, so all's well that ends well in the romance stakes. There's a great new pick-up line for anyone in the market, and the sex scenes between Lisa and Gary (when the puppets copulate in different positions) has to be seen to be believed.
Parker dishes it out to the actors who are all FAGs (Film Actors Guild). There's Alec Baldwin, the Guild chairman, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, Matt Damon, Helen Hunt, Samuel L. Jackson to name a few, and they all come to a sticky, fiery or bloody end. Oh, I almost forgot, Michael Moore is explosive as a suicide bomber as are the 911 references.
Set in Paris, Cairo, Panama and Seoul, the locations are measured by their distance from Los Angeles and the United States of America. 'America, fuck yeah... it's the dream that we all share,' goes the song. Team America reaches its spectacular finale at the World Peace Conference, when the world is saved from weapons of mass destruction and the curse of Alec Baldwin, the most talented actor in the world and his cohorts. Parker has something to say and he has no quibbles about saying it all. It's crude, rude, edgy, cynical, satirical and goddamn hilarious. Trust Trey Parker. And it could only happen in America.
Email this article
TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE (MA)
VOICES: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Kristen Miller, Masasa, Daran Norris, Phil Hendrie, Maurice LaMarche, Chelsea Magritte, Jeremy Shada, Fred Tatasciore
PRODUCER: Trey Parker, Pam Brady
DIRECTOR: Trey Parker
SCRIPT: Trey Parker, Pam Brady, Matt Stone
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Bill Pope
EDITOR: Tom Vogt
MUSIC: Harry Gregson-Williams (Trey Parker songs)
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jim Dultz
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 2, 2004