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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Team America: World Police (review)

Unfair and Balanced

Well, there’s something to piss off everyone.

And that’s a good thing. In this political and cultural climate where there seems not only to be no middle ground but no attempt to find such, it’s a very good thing. If everyone else — the Michael Moores and the Swift Boat Veterans and the Al Frankens and the Rush Limbaughs — has been preaching to their own friendly choirs, Trey Parker and Matt Stone are dragging all those competing choirs out onto Main Street, farting on them, and telling them they’re all full of shit.

The trick is: They did it with puppets.
Still, it’s gotta sting, right? Yeah, when it’s your team they’re calling bullshit on. But as unlikely as this may sound, Team America: World Police, with all its screaming, flailing outrage, all its deliberate provocations, all its, well, puppets, is really, deep down beneath all the vulgarity, a poignant, mournful search for that missing middle ground, one that tries to burn away all the hypocrisy and all the wishful thinking about the whole big mess that is the world to come up with a sad, pragmatic reality. It ends up dividing the world and all its myriad, diverse points of view into three simple Parker-Stonian categories: pussy, dick, and asshole — oh, much will be said about this triumvirate, to be sure; and they conclude that being a dick is the most rational thing to do. Kinda like how Dolores Claiborne said that sometimes being a bitch is all a woman has. This conclusion — which really must be seen in the context of the film to fully appreciate; it’s a lot more sophisticated than it appears to be — gives no quarter to either the left or the right, and will likely draw howls of indignation from both sides. You may not agree with it — I’m not sure I do. But somebody is trying to make some sense of things, somebody not afraid to alienate absolutely everyone else in the process. That’s a bravery we haven’t seen much of lately.

Am I being too generous? Am I seeing nuance where there is none? Is Team America really just an excuse to have anatomically incorrect puppets fuck onscreen? Perhaps.

“Team America has once again pissed off the entire world,” says “Peter Jennings” (voiced by either Parker or Stone; only they know for sure) in a newscast early in the film. It’s one of our first indications that, aside from the obvious fact of a world populated by 20-inch-tall wooden puppets, we’re in a fantasy land: The media here is actually incisive and critical, terrorists actually do have WMDs, politically minded celebrities actually are in league with crazy dictators, and the United States actually is the center of the universe. Team America — their logo, splashed on the sides of their red, white, and blue fighter planes, is of a bald eagle with an Earth globe in its maw — is a Michael Bay wet dream, an ass-kicking team of arrogant, automatic-weapon-toting 21st-century cowboys who travel the planet taking down turban-wearing, nonsense-Arabic-speaking, WMD-toting terrorists and destroying irreplaceable national monuments of vast historical importance with nary a second thought; TA’s only nod to political correctness or cultural sensitivity is in the ethnic and gender mix of the team, which includes not one but two women, one of which is Asian (though I guess the token black guy was killed in the previous TA adventure).

As a sendup of Bruckheimer-esque action orgies, Team America can’t be beat. It brings forests of new meaning to the term “wooden acting”; the soon-to-be-infamous sex scene is precisely as passionate and erotic as the vast majority of those shoehorned into movies like this one, which is to say, not at all. Testosterone-fueled male insecurities stink up the joint something awful, so shockingly extreme that the film effectively satirizes that hot-blooded terror of homosexuality whether it intends to or not (I think it intends to). The politics are, on the surface, as right-wing, as superior and condescending as we’ve come to expect from movies about guys who like to shoot guns and kill people; if there’s a little extra glee imbued in the humiliation of caricatures of Tim Robbins and Alec Baldwin and other activist celebs, I tell myself that Parker and Stone are sending up the attitude that wishes such excessive harm to those whose chief weapons are words and the platform fame allows to speak them. I may be wrong about that, but Parker and Stone are so hell-bent against hypocrisy that it seems unlikely that they would genuinely wish to deny someone a voice merely because of his celebrity when they claim that right for themselves.

That’s a lot of intellectual to-ing and fro-ing for a movie that can be appreciated merely for its relentless silliness. From the opening moment of the film, which plays with every low expectation you have for certain aspects of a Parker/Stone exploit, to the spot-on nods to Star Wars (these guys are geeks to the last), to the final Scooby-Doo coda, to the final final song — stay through the end credits — Team America is hilarious. And oh my god, the panthers! Guys who could come up with Kim Jong Il’s attack panthers couldn’t possibly wish anyone ill.


MPAA: rated R for graphic crude and sexual humor, violent images and strong language - all involving puppets

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

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