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Direct Misfire

 

Team America: World Police

Trey Parker, USA, 2004

Rating: 2.0

 

 

Posted: October 17, 2004

By Laurence Station

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 Delta Force 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 fast.

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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