Sunday, June 05, 2005

Movie Review: "Team America: World Police"

Starring a bunch of puppets
Directed by Trey Parker

For fans long awaiting a big-screen marrionette movie, rejoice, for your time has come. The seriously dirty minds behind "South Park" have created the largest, loudest and certainly most violent and foul-mouthed puppet movie ever put to film.
And I'm sure they would view that as a compliment.
For that matter, the film is purposely presented as a satire on the big-budgeted action extravaganzas made popular by Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay, such as "Pearl Harbor," "The Rock," and "Armageddon." "Team America" makes a point to skewer those films for their loud and violent nature, by matching them explosion for explosion. Heck, this movie even blows up its opening credit sequence.
Going far beyond the 1960s marionette show, "Thunderbirds," these puppets fight, shoot weapons, curse (a lot), sing, and much to the dismay of the MPAA ratings board, have sex. A ridiculously over the top sequence has two puppets having sex (sans genitalia), which has been restored for DVD, after being cut to secure an R rating in theaters.
Having created and developed "South Park" for several years, including its own movie in 1999, co-writers Trey Parker and Matt Stone are no strangers to controversy and have no qualms about offending people. The fact that the two can write some legitimately funny material is a big reason why they're able to get away with as much as they have.
The problem is that "Team America" is simply not as funny in execution as it is in concept.
The film follows an American group of freedom fighters who tackle terrorism, leaving their own path of destruction in the process. Their latest and biggest threat comes from South Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, who is planning world domination by strategically placing weapons of mass destruction in various locales worldwide. Portrayed as a short-tempered, power-hungry villain, Kim Jong Il is the most entertaining character in the movie, even getting to sing a song of lament, "I'm Lonely."
As it did with the "South Park" movie, music plays a big role in this film, including an obscene team theme song, that admittedly you will struggle to get out of your head. The music sequences are actually where the movie seems to be at its most clever, albeit far from subtle, with one song existing simply to make fun of "Pearl Harbor" and Ben Affleck.
The movie also sets out to lambast outspoken celebrities such as Alec Baldwin, Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Janeane Garofalo. However, most attempts at humor with them are unsuccessful, as the film doesn't seem to have anything original to say about the actors. In fact, the only real laughs I got out of them was with the Matt Damon puppet, who inexplicably is only capable of shouting his own name in his scenes.
Unlike much of the best episodes of "South Park" or its movie, most of the humor in "Team America" seems to depend on vulgarity or gross out gags, as opposed to wit and intelligence. That's not to say there aren't laughs to be had, but there's only so much mileage you can get out of puppets cursing or shooting at each other. Still, it's certainly not for any lack of trying.
Grade: C+
(Rated R for graphic crude and sexual humor, violent images and strong language – all involving puppets.)

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