Phil on Film Index

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Review - Team America: World Police

A group of Middle-Eastern terrorists have been spotted with a weapon of mass destruction in Paris. Fortunately Team America, a specialised military group dedicated to wiping out terrorism across the globe, swiftly flies in to save the day. Team America is a terrorist-fighting super-squad which patrols the world, putting a spanner in the works of terrorists everywhere. These ass-kicking heroes make quick work of the villains and the free world is a safe place once more.

Unfortunately, they also manage to destroy The Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and The Louvre in the process.

This is the opening sequence to Team America: World Police, the patchy but hugely entertaining satire from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Made entirely with puppets, strings and all, the film is a frequently hilarious satire which attacks those on both the left and right of the political divide. It also works as a spot-on parody of Hollywood action films, and in particular the offerings of Jerry Bruckheimer, and this aspect of the film is arguably more successful.

The plot centres on Gary Johnston, the most acclaimed actor on Broadway, who is recruited by Team America boss Spottswoode after they lose one of their elite in Paris. Spottswoode thinks Gary's acting skills will be perfect for infiltrating the terrorist network, led by Kim Jong Il, and finding the details of the suspected plot which, we are told, will be 9/11 times 100 ("Jesus, that's 91,100!"). Gary agrees, but only after he's fallen in love with team member Lisa and incurred the wrath of the distrustful hothead Joe. After undergoing surgery to 'become' a terrorist, Gary bravely goes undercover to do his duty. But can he go up against 'The greatest actor in the world' and leader of the Film Actors Guild (F.A.G) Alec Baldwin?

Team America is tasteless, childish, offensive and uneven, but it's also one of the funniest movies to emerge from America in years. Parker and Stone's script is too unfocused to work as a political satire, but as a spoof of Bruckheimer-style action movies it's hard to fault. The cheesy dialogue, false sentiment, clumsy exposition and one-note characterisation of those movies is brilliantly sent up. The first hour of Team America is so full of hilarious moments it's impossible to know where to start. The explicit puppet sex scene is as funny as it is bizarre, weapons inspector Hans Blix meets his match at the hands of Kim Jong Il, who behaves like a Bond villain and talks like Cartman, while songs such as America, Fuck Yeah!, The Montage song, Pearl Harbour Sucked and Everyone has AIDS offer as many laughs as what's happening on screen.

Unfortunately, Parker and Stone are determined to attack the self-importance of Hollywood liberals such as Baldwin, Sean Penn, Michael Moore, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon; and it's here that Team America falters. Too many celebrities are introduced at once and most of them seem to serve little purpose other than to die in increasingly gruesome ways. The likes of Matt Damon, Helen Hunt and Liv Tyler seem especially pointless and the whole actor subplot only offers a few memorable gags ("It's our duty to read the newspapers and repeat what we've read as if it is our own opinion").

In fact, the entire final third of the film seems to run out of steam as Parker and Stone fail to come up with any ideas to match the quality of what's gone before. Team America sadly deteriorates into an endless and repetitive stream of jokes about oral sex and vomiting and it outstays its welcome some time before the credits roll.

However, Team America is a better film than Parker and Stone's previous efforts and is funny enough to let us ignore the occasionally duff moment. The pair behind the film are clearly having a whale of a time with their broad scattergun approach and if you're not too easily offended then the chances are you will too. Team America is like a weapon of mass destruction itself, set to destroy as many taboos and sensibilities as possible, and few of its targets remain unscathed.