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Dustin Putman

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Team America: World Police (2004)
2 Stars

Directed by Trey Parker
Voices: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Kristen Miller, Dian Bachar, Phil Hendrie.
2004 – 95 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for graphic violence, language, crude humor, and sex).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, October 9, 2004.

When it was announced that fearless "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone were making an R-rated, all-marionette comedy as a response to today's uneasy political waters and the search for terrorists, those knowing what these two madcap geniuses were capable of were understandably filled with giddy hope. After all, how many motion pictures have been quite as ruthlessly funny in recent years as 1999's "South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut?" Trailers for their latest opus have sold themselves on the notion that such outspoken, in-the-news people as George W. Bush, John Kerry, Michael Moore, Alec Baldwin, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, and Kim Jong Il would be very mad at what they see. The outcome, however, does not fulfill such a promise. For some, such as Baldwin, Robbins, and Sarandon, all of whom are featured with puppet representations, as long as they have a sense of humor they won't be terribly disturbed. As for Bush and Kerry, they are never mentioned nor do they appear as characters. In fact, the satirical strains running throughout "Team America: World Police" are far too flat-footed to warrant much of a response from anyone.

Team America is a renegade group of underground police who risk their lives traveling the globe in their sole pursuit to wipe out terrorists. When Broadway star of "Lease: The Musical" Greg Johnston (voiced by Trey Parker) is called upon by the head of Team America to aid in their mission—he is the only actor good enough to pass himself off as Middle-Eastern, despite his Caucasian descent—he begrudgingly agrees. With the rest of the world gradually turning against their cause, Team America move ever closer to the megalomaniac leader of the terrorists, Kim Jong Il, who has begun to sway the Film Actors Guild (F.A.G.) activists to his side under misleading pretenses. Meanwhile, Greg starts to fall in love with the brave Lisa (Kristen Miller), their relationship threatened by their respective hang-ups from the past—Greg's family was once torn apart and eaten by gorillas, while Lisa's fiancee was murdered by a terrorist in Paris.

Directed by Trey Parker and written by Parker, Matt Stone, and Pam Brady, "Team America: World Police" has been over-hyped and misadvertised. Reluctant to pick a side or truly give any political figures or activists a sharp lampooning, the film is spineless in not wanting to specifically pick apart today's political matters or make a statement. Viewed, then, as simply a raunchy comedy, the movie is not much better. There are some hearty laughs to be had—a love ballad that also thrashes Michael Bay's "Pearl Harbor" and its star, Ben Affleck, is one of its sharpest jokes, and the wild sex scene between wooden puppets Greg and Lisa has to be seen to be believed—but they don't come frequently enough. The majority of the comedy is more of the grin-and-nod variety, not assured or acidic enough to reach the uproarious heights it intends, and there are too many moments that fall flat for comfort.

Primarily, "Team America: World Police" wishes to be a satire of the bombastic, overblown Jerry Bruckheimer-like action films, complete with non-stop explosions, violence, faux emotions, one-dimensional heroes who are characterized by their expertise within the mission, and just about every cliche the genre is guilty of. Many of these action movie traits are played straight, the comedy sneaking in unexpectedly and taking said cliches to the brink, but, for the most part, the film is just as forgettable as its supposedly serious counterparts. Much more successful are Trey Parker's sly comments on the physical restraints of making a feature film with marionettes. The way that they shabbily bop up and down as they walk, or make hand motions that intentionally don't do what they intend, is funnier than anything specifically related to the plot or politics.

"Team America: World Police" is a neat experiment, an interesting novelty item that is a technical achievement. Looked upon as a big-screen comedy that requires quick-wittedness, memorable characters, and a strong plot, it is flimsy and undernourished. The characters fail to endear the viewer, the comedy has a been-there-done-that feel, not nearly as raunchy or ballsy as one would be led to expect from Trey Parker and Matt Stone's past projects, and the film finally implodes in a flurry of mindless violence, blood, and gunfire. "Team America: World Police" hints of an ingenious idea that, in its rush to be made and released before the November elections, didn't have time to tighten and fine-tune a serviceable script to do it justice. The finished product is discouragingly more flaccid and cowardly than it has any right to be.
© 2004 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman