Puppet Strings of Evil
Thursday, October 21, 2004
I suspect any number of reviewers will applaud the timeliness of South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s true-blue (as in “blue movie”), determinedly non-PC take on US foreign policy and the full gamut of action-movie clichés that come in for a much-needed skewering in this all-marionette comedy of seriously uninhibited raunch and roll.
This is satirical comedy with a political bent, of course, something to which Parker and Stone are hardly strangers (recall their semi-successful attempt to lampoon the pre-9/11 days of the Bush administration with the faux sitcom That’s My Bush, or any number of wonderfully inflammatory South Park episodes). Team America continues their tradition of juvenile yet compellingly smart humor, heavy on the sex gags and parodies of everyone from liberal mouthpieces Sean Penn (who is not amused) to Tim Robbins (who may be amused, but then it’s always been difficult to tell), and from North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to a variety of bearded, Middle Eastern terror types so broadly generic in their puppet portrayals as to have been lifted whole from the world of actioneering über-director Michael Bay and producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE ( * * 1/2 )
Directed By Trey Parker
Voices By Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Kristen Miller, Daran Norris, Elle Russ, Stanley G. Sawicki, Dian Bachar, Phil Hendrie
(Rated R, 98 min.)
But that’s no surprise—Parker and Stone have always, to their immense credit, been equal-opportunity offenders, hanging the left, right, and center by their own petards with gleeful abandon. Team America differs most importantly in its execution—this isn’t the cut-and-paste budget animation of Cartman and Company, but instead a tribute (if that’s the right word, and I doubt somehow that it is) to Brit Gerry Anderson’s ‘60s-era, all-marionette, kiddie action show Thunderbirds, which, coincidentally enough, was recently remade in an abysmal live-action version starring Bill Paxton.
Parker’s scandalously silly film is vastly more entertaining, featuring as it does a group of USA champions who fight global terrorism from their hidden HQ behind the presidential busts atop Mt. Rushmore. There’s the garrulous team leader Joe, the “empathic” Asian hottie Sarah, the blond psychiatrist gunslinger hottie Lisa, and Chris, the hair-trigger, ever-bitter badass with a heart of gold, all led by the enigmatic Spottswoode. Together they recruit Broadway actor Gary, currently starring in a Rent parody called Lease (where he gets to sing the show-stopping number “Everyone Has AIDS”), to infiltrate a terrorist network that has possible ties to the Film Actors Guild, or, duh, FAG.
Despite the many clever and outright hilarious broadsides aimed at everything from Michael Bay’s monstrous potboiler Pearl Harbor to whole chunks of dialogue lifted from other action blockbusters (Armageddon comes in for several quotes), Team America feels somewhat less than the sum of its parts—there are occasional downtimes that are only briefly enlivened by some very nasty (i.e., cool) puppet sex and enough mangled marionette bloodshed to make Sam Raimi wince.
On the whole it’s great fun, but it’s hardly up to the level of the truly excellent South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. There are too many gags that fall flat and the strain of an all-marionette cast shows all too often.