With South Park being a prominent entry on their résumés, Trey Parker and Matt Stone have never been afraid to take the piss out of anyone (or anything) topical, and they simply do not care if their Mickey-taking is in poor taste. Indeed, 1999’s feature-length South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut demonstrates these tendencies, with the pair clearly relishing the opportunity to absolutely skewer everything from Saddam Hussein to Microsoft, and beyond. 2004’s Team America: World Police also brings these propensities to the fore, but the twist is that the duo took their satire to a whole new level by using not live action or animation, but puppets. And thankfully, the resultant picture is fucking hilarious. It is perfectly acceptable for others to disagree and to find the film to be in bad taste, though. Indeed, a lot of people are destined to find Team America to be highly offensive and juvenile, and that’s a perfectly reasonable reaction…
The titular Team America are an elite, renegade underground group of America patriots prepared to obliterate anything posing a threat to the United States. When they receive intelligence indicating that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is selling Weapons of Mass Destruction to the highest bidder, the team need an inside man to go undercover and infiltrate the terrorist cell. With little choice, they turn to acclaimed Broadway star Gary Johnson (Parker) for help, and he begrudgingly agrees. As the team work towards saving the world, another threat rises when the Alec Baldwin-led Film Actors Guild (you figure out the acronym…) begin to help Kim Jong Il under misleading pretences. In the midst of all this, Gary develops feelings for team member Lisa (Miller), who is reluctant to commit to a relationship after her fiancée was killed by a terrorist during an earlier assignment.
Audiences may spend a lot of time dissecting the movie’s political views, but the real beauty of Team America lies in its satire. Parker and Stone primarily aimed to take the piss out of Hollywood blockbusters, incorporating all of the customary elements like excessive violence, big explosions, contrived emotions, shallow heroes, and pretty much every single cliché the genre normally succumbs to. The use of marionettes may seem random in the grand scheme of things, yet it works in a satirical sense, serving to highlight the stereotypical cut-and-paste mentality of this particular school of action pictures: cardboard characters being thrown into conventional scenarios accompanied by a generous dosage of ‘splosions and blood-letting. Taking their genius one step further, Parker and Stone replicated the style of big-budget action films, with slow motion being overused, the camera constantly moving, and with a hyperbolic musical score. For good measure, there’s even a montage (set to the suitably-titled song Montage).
Trey Parker and South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut composer Marc Shaiman once again collaborated on Team America to conceive of a handful of new songs to offend and delight. The musical numbers begin not long into the film with the Rent soundalike tune Everyone Has AIDs, while a number of the film’s most rousing moments are accompanied by the memorably boisterous song America, Fuck Yeah!. A whole new level of side-splitting hilarity is reached, though, with a song about how much Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor sucked. Heck, Kim Jong Il even gets his own sweet musical number at one stage, in which he explains that he’s evil because he’s just lonely…so ronrey… Also worth mentioning are the sublime production values. Team America may seem like a low-budget affair, but the film is positively beset with immaculate detail. Cinematographer Bill Pope (The Matrix, Spider-Man 2) gave the picture a vibrant sheen, while the sets and character design are equally delightful. Inspired by the classic Thunderbirds show of the 1960s, the puppets here are purposely shoddy in their movements – they bob up and down as they walk, and often their hand motions intentionally do not achieve what they intend. This stuff is comedy gold.
In terms of politics, Parker and Stone do not slant towards any party. All politicians are fair game to the pair, who chose to skewer the Democrats, Republicans and Independents with all guns blazing. Most filmmakers would have taken the film as an opportunity to go after George Bush, but Parker and Stone could not care less about him – they focused their satirical sights on the parade of Hollywood celebrities who have strong opinions on world affairs and are not afraid to express them. High-profile stars such as Alec Baldwin, Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon, Matt Damon and Tim Robbins are all depicted as off-the-wall egomaniacs. And then there are the vocal performances. As to be expected from the guys behind South Park, Parker and Stone voiced most of the characters, and went hilariously over-the-top for each role. It’s worth noting that the film was slightly trimmed to avoid an NC-17 rating from the MPAA, but the footage later was incorporated into an unrated cut. The extra footage is from the love scene and adds absolutely nothing to the overall experience, but it is memorable and unmistakable…
Hilarious from the first frame and with momentum only rarely relenting, Team America: World Police stands as one of the finest creations of Trey Parker and Matt Stone. It’s literally a gold mine of side-splitting quotes (and sounds, with a hilariously offensive Middle-Eastern chant destined to be repeated ad nauseum) incorporated within a framework of satire, violence and amusing stupidity. It must again be stressed, though, that comedy of this brand is entirely subjective – some will label Team America as unfunny, offensive tripe, while others (myself included) will worship it as comedic genius.