Team America: World Police

If the sight of marionettes having sex offends you, then Team America: World Police has done its job, and what a job. A silly spectacle from the South Park guys rifling on everything from Jerry Bruckheimer films to world politics, Team America effectively turns every cliche and genre on its termite-infested ear.

You want action? Team America delivers. You want romance. Team America delivers. You want to see Susan Sarandon tossed from a skyscraper? Team America doesn’t just deliver, they deliver air mail. Creators Trey Parker, Matt Stone and co-writer Pam Brady don’t have any one target on their radar. They toss as many poison pens as possible at the screen.

Team America, with it’s gorgeous, detailed miniature sets captured in all their widescreen glory by Bill Pope, is the film equivalent of something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. Resurrecting the 1960s camp of Gerry Anderson’s Super-Marionation series as The Thunderbirds, Stingray and Fireball XL5, Team America adds an exaggerated new spin to the convention.

The filmmakers literally borrow dialogue from other blockbuster films, which in context sounds more authentic coming from a marionette, and then add a blue streak guaranteed to make members of the ratings board swallow their gum.

What emerges is a film that takes itself very seriously, at least in the first half. The filmmakers understand the films they are spoofing are already preposterous and pretentious, so instead of playing into that trap, they work around it. Even at its most outrageous, Team America plays it straight. Even the musical numbers, oh yes, there are musical numbers, are presented with utter conviction.

Like their destructive heroes, the filmmakers take no prisoners. They shamelessly take on everyone and everything, leaving no sacred cow un-tipped in their pursuit for a laugh. Their wood creations aren’t just joints and wires, they have emotions and back story. The film’s larger-than- life villain ponders his lonely existence, while the film’s reluctant recruit, a Broadway actor named Greg Johnston, is still recovering from an unexpected family disaster.

Johnston is brought into the fold of Team America: World Police after their leader is killed by a terrorist in Paris. Team America may have leveled Paris in the process, but at least the charred streets of the City of Lights are safe again. Not so for the rest of the world, when evil despot Kim Jung II advances on his equally evil plans, forcing the Team to recruit Johnston to portray a terrorist and infiltrate the movement. The logic behind this decision is so insane it seems logical.

South Park still remains one of the funniest, bravest and most relevant shows on cable, and creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone continually prove their well is far from dry. Their first feature, Bigger, Longer and Uncut, viciously skewered censorship, effectively arguing through the mouths of foul mouthed fourth graders the people who hand out movie ratings are more concerned with sex than violence.

True to form, Team America, which depicts enough mindless violence and crimson paint to fill several Michael Bay films, ran into trouble because of a simulated sex scene between marionettes. So the lesson we take from this is blowing off a head is okay, but giving it is not. Parker and Stone were tailor made for the ratings board, two overgrown frat boys who not only dare to push the envelope, they shove it into a paper shredder and make up their own rules. The filmmakers may revel in toilet humor, but at least they give us a courtesy flush.

The sex scene aside, Team America is top heavy with naughty bits guaranteed to either tickle your funny bone or snap your spine in half. The filmmakers understand the inherent humor in making a big-budget action film with marionettes, and when faced with the intrinsic limitations of the medium, use them as part of the gag. You can’t help but laugh at the absurdity that these slow moving, limited-motion marionettes are the stars of an action film. At least their emotions are in check.

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Voices of Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Dian Bacher, Phil Hendrie, Kristen Miller, Elle Russ. Directed by Trey Parker. Rated R. 95 Minutes.


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