America: World Police
Trey Parker, USA, 2004
Posted: October 17,
South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone set their satirical
automatic weapons to Spray in Team America: World Police. Team
America's primary objective is to make fun of (nearly) everything in the
current, tense geopolitical environment. Left wing, right wing, big
corporations, communists, terrorists: No target is out of bounds in this
marionette-powered feature that draws gadgetry-enamored inspiration (and its
visual style) from the popular '60s British television series
Thunderbirds (which, ironically enough, became a live action feature
earlier this year). Parker and Stone get the look right, but Team America
fails in two key areas in which the scatological pranksters have previously
proven quite adept: Being funny and exposing hypocrisy. For all of its
politically incorrect insults and potty-mouthed wordplay, Team America
is disappointingly dull and toothless.
The premise is shaky but potentially golden: Take a clichéd plot and
ultra-trite, one-liner driven dialogue wrenched straight from a Golan and
Globus action film, circa mid-'80s (think
and the Missing in Action series), and apply it to the current War on
Terror. Hence, we have the Big Corporation-financed, high-tech mercenary
squad Team America, whose base is located within Mount Rushmore. Toss in a
parody of an already self-parodying dictator, North Korea's Kim Jong II; a
few Middle Eastern terrorists whose muddled vocabulary primarily consists of
the words "jihad" and "Mohammed;" briefcases filled with Weapons of Mass
Destruction; the self-righteous Film Actors Guild (their acronym says it
all); and run with it.
The problem is, Parker and Stone run their gags into the ground. The sight
of Team America blowing up the Eiffel Tower (which conveniently crushes the
Arc de Triomphe on its way down) and the Louvre in an effort to kill a
handful of terrorists is funny -- American-sized overkill in the name of
freedom. Point well made. But then we go through the same shtick in Egypt
with the Pyramids and the Sphinx. Not as amusing the second time around.
Likewise, the brutal killings of prominent Hollywood peace activists like
Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn just get tiresome. The beauty of a
South Park episode is its sub-half-hour brevity; under such time
constraints, Parker and Stone strive to make every zinger count. But padding
a feature-length film with redundant sight gags (or overlong musical numbers
as in the Bigger, Longer & Uncut South Park film) wears thin pretty
The puppets are well-designed (and fully articulated, as a protracted sex
scene graphically illustrates), and the sets fully realized down to the
smallest detail. The use of house cats as panthers is especially inspired.
But Team America fails to illicit enough laughs (especially in
comparison to the average South Park episode). Further, by gleefully
attacking everyone who seemingly has a political opinion, Parker and Stone
manage to fire wide of any discernible target. And if you know the
well-trodden plot of those '80s action movies, the outcome of this retread
is hardly unique.
Also, in the midst of such a fiercely contested presidential race, it's
curious that Team America never once refers to the current
administration or any stateside political organization, period. Having the
Team America squad operate as a private entity, yet do so exclusively with
America's best interests in mind, seems extremely expedient and harmless.
Since Team America doesn't actually exist, there's no corollary target to
tie the group's ultra-violent/blindly patriotic actions back to. Parker and
Stone seemingly leave no stone unturned in their quest to offend, but play
it neutral on the issue of who their "good guys" are supposed to represent.
That just doesn't make sense.
Best leave it to one of history's master provocateurs, Jonathan Swift, to
sum up Team America and its creators: "Satire is a sort of glass,
wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own."
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