Dir: Trey Parker. US.2004. 98mins.
Gung-ho Americans,turbaned terrorists and Hollywood peaceniks - they're all fair comedic game forTrey Parker and Matt Stone's Team America: World Police, a raunchyaction movie satire with the weird distinction of being performed by a cast oftraditional Thunderbirds-style puppets. Parker and Stone - best known,of course, as the creators of animated TV show South Park - don't,however, try to make big political points in their third feature together, theymostly just go for laughs. And while they don't produce as many laughs as theydid five years ago with their South Parkfeature, they hit the target often enough to make Team America welcomecomic relief from the serious business of wars and elections.
US distributor Paramount maybe helped by the pre-election interest in politics when it opens TeamAmerica domestically this weekend. And the non-partisan nature of thesatire should help keep the potential audience fairly broad.
On the downside, somecinemagoers will certainly be put off by the idea of jokes about terrorism and9/11 and the audience will also be limited by the film's R rating. In the end, TeamAmerica seems likely to produce a domestic gross in the same ballpark asthe $52m made by South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut.
DVD sales should beexcellent, especially if the film snags award recognition for its puppet workor songs (as South Park did for one of its ditties).
The timing won't be asadvantageous for international distributor UIP, which isn't due to open TeamAmerica in some major markets until early next year. But the implicitmockery of heavy-handed US foreign policy will chime well with public sentimentin many international territories so the film should at least be able to beatthe modest $26.6m overseas gross achieved by the South Park movie.
Written by Parker and Stonewith their longtime collaborator Pam Brady, the script is ostensibly a send-upof Jerry Bruckheimer-style Hollywood action extravaganzas. The Team consists offive elite American agents - each one an action movie stereotype - and theiraristocratic boss Spottswoode. Wherever in the world terrorists show theirfaces, Team America jets in with guns blazing and little regard for localculture: in the first scene alone the Team manages to destroy the Eiffel Tower,the Arc de Triomph and the Louvre.
When a power-hungry dictatorstarts selling WMDs to terrorists, the Team recruits chiselled Broadway starGary Johnston to infiltrate the operation - because spying is really justacting, Spottswoode explains. Saving the world involves spectacularlydestructive trips to Egypt and Panama and eventually a showdown with thestory's arch villain, a hilarious puppet version of North Korean leader KimJong Il.
The Team also has to contendwith opposition from a hot-dog munching, suicide-bombing Michael Moore and agroup of anti-militarist actors that includes Alec Baldwin, Tim Robbins, SeanPenn, Samuel L Jackson and Susan Sarandon (none of whom, we're told in thecredits, authorised the use of their names or contributed any performances tothe film: for his part, Penn has objected to Parker and Stone's film"encouraging that there's 'no shame in not voting' 'if you don't know whatyou're talking about').
With their oversized heads,jerky gaits and deliberately visible strings, the Gerry Anderson-influencedpuppets are funny in themselves. But, as in South Park, it's thecombination of the innocent-seeming form with obscenity-laden dialogue andraunchy action that really tickles the funny bone.
Some of the charactersactually sound a little like South Park favourites - Parker and Stone domany of the voices and they're aided by voice specialists rather than celebritytalents - and there's a similar fascination with bodily functions. The big sexscene between hero Gary and one of the Team's female members is predictablyover the top (but not as far over as it might have been: the scene apparentlyhad to be cut to avoid a commercially harmful NC-17 US rating).
Though the film doesn't takeabsolutely every opportunity to offend (the French get off quite lightly, forexample), much of the humour is determinedly un-PC: most of the non-Americancharacters speak heavily-accented gibberish rather than real languages; Garyenters the story belting out the song EveryoneHas AIDS during a spoof of the musical Rent; and the leftie actorsall belong to the Film Actors Guild, or FAG.
Parker and Stone are a bitmore circumspect when it comes to politics. Besides Kim Jong Il, the onlyreal-life political figure portrayed is UN arms inspector Hans Blix, and he isquickly dispatched by one of Kim's pet fish. And in the climactic scene Garygives a speech that calls for the political hawks ('dicks' in the film'sterminology) to unite with the doves ('pussies') against the terrorists('assholes').
The songs, mostly written byParker, add some nice emphasis, even if none comes up to the standard of SouthPark's Oscar-nominated Blame Canada. America, F**k Yeahcatches the dumbly nationalistic tone of some Hollywood action flicks. FreedomIsn't Free is a funny spoof of flag-waving country ballads. And I'm SoRonery provides the Kim Jong Il character with a deliciously silly solospot.
Prod cos: Paramount Pictures, Scott Rudin Productions
US dist: Paramount
Int'l dist: UIP
Exec prods: ScottAversano, Anne Garefino
Prods: Scott Rudin, Trey Parker,Matt Stone
Scr: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, PamBrady
Cine: Bill Pope
Prod des: Jim Dultz
Ed: Thomas M Vogt
Costume des: Karen Patch
Visual consultant: David Rockwell
Music: Harry Gregson-Williams
Main cast (voices): Trey Parker,Matt Stone, Kristen Miller, Masasa, Daran Norris