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Reviews » Theatrical Reviews » Team America: World Police
Team America: World Police
Paramount // R // October 15, 2004
Review by Kim Morgan | posted October 21, 2004 | E-mail the Author
C O N T E N T
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Team America: World Police is fucking hilarious. But, I will say that it's perfectly acceptable for others to not find it so. Puppets simply may not be your cup of tea. Watching one vomit repeatedly on a city street might not tickle your funny bone. Or you could be Alec Baldwin.

Though it didn't fare as well as projected in its opening weekend (it came in third with $12.3 million instead of the expected $20 million or so) it may pick up steam through word-of-mouth. Who can tell just yet? Either it's not pushing enough buttons for people to be curious (I have some friends who've refused to see it based on the filmmakers' speculative politics) or carefully crafting an all-marionette movie with the patience and precision of a topiary gardener just sounds like a drag. It's their loss or perhaps, gain. People are really sensitive about this picture.

Some critics and viewers have said to themselves, "Hey...wait a second, I'm all for freedom of speech but that's not cool, guys...Susan Sarandon means what she says!"

Which I'm sure she does, but for those who cheered South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut where they laughed at Mahatma Gandhi (a, uh, more important political figure than Sarandon) residing in hell, then I guess they're just a tad hypocritical. Since when have Parker and Stone not "gone too far?" They gave Jarrod, the spokesman for Subway Sandwiches, AIDS, and frequently make gay and Jewish jokes on their show. I guess when non-p.c. humor is doled out in faceless jabs, that's okay -- but when our beloved, and uhh, very wealthy Tim Robbins gets targeted? Well...now you guys have some explaining to do!

With Alan Alda's observation in Crimes and Misdemeanors( "Comedy is tragedy plus time") in mind, have Matt Stone and Trey Parker given the tragedy of 9/11 enough time? I think so. The serious pall that hung over America became oppressive two months after the tragedy during which late-night talk show hosts were more somber and reflective (even dimming their sets) and comedians were afraid to make any kind of joke deemed ironic or offensive. Editorials spoke about the "end of irony," the general drift being "Dammit America! We've been too apathetic and smug...we need to put down our Game Boys and become resolute and stern faced...!" Boring!

While the wake up call did garner the incredibly significant act of causing misinformed masses to study Middle East policy (suddenly average Joe's were discussing all the "Stan" countries) and later, with the war, galvanized citizens to spread the word that, you know, voting is like, effective and stuff. It also, within a year, made us just as cynical and hard-edged as ever. People in this country are pissed, and we're living in a scary time -- so scary it's reached levels of ridiculousness. Our current administration is something from a comic book (Donald Rumsfield looks like Skull-Ra) complete with that Marvel-esque lingo Bush is so fond of: "We'll smoke out the evildoers." Before his capture, I'd been waiting for George W. to break out with a "riddle me this Sadddam..." while his trusty sidekick Laura (who, if you squint your eyes, looks a bit like Robin) stands proudly by his side.

But they're not the only humorous ones. Sorry, but it was funny when Sean Penn went to Iraq to inform us all that no WMD's were to be found (even though he's so far clearly correct). And call me nuts, but the world's gone mad when the French honor Michael Moore the Palme d' Or over, I dunno...a movie with more artistic value?

Throw in Vincent Gallo (hip artistic types can be Republicans?) and his on-screen blow job (which really, had nothing to do with the current war in Iraq, yet somehow did given the knee-jerk hatred he received from liberals), our love affair (myself included) with a bloody, muscular, old-school Jesus Christ, the musical embracing of stupid, jingoistic country ballads coupled with The Dixie Chicks nearly having to seek asylum in Switzerland for speaking their minds and Sean Combs' "Vote or Die" tee-shirt...the last few years appear truly bizarre.

It is precisely this ludicrousness that Matt Stone and Trey Parker hone in on in their beautifully crafted, all-marionette movie Team America: World Police. Whatever their political affiliation, no film has captured so plainly just how insane our world (and the world of entertainment) has become in relation to the war in Iraq.

Layered within the politics and the clear enjoyment of eviscerating left-wing Hollywood, the movie also targets obnoxious Hollywood action films, specifically the works of producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Michael Bay. They're both known for destroying Paris in Armageddon, their pre-9/11 rah-rah-America movie and Team America opens in kind with its gung-ho patriots destroying a beret wearing, idyllic Paris. By accident, of course -- there were terrorists in the way.

Needing to replace a good-guy Team American who was killed by a half-dead terrorist in Paris, the John Forsythe-like Spottswoode (Daran Norris) seeks out Broadway actor Gary Johnston (Parker) because the group needs an impersonator to infiltrate terrorist cells. (Gary is located starring in a Broadway musical called Lease, during which he and the cast perform the song "Everyone Has AIDS.")

After some soul searching, set to a purposely terrible Toby Keith/Alan Jackson inspired New Country number ("Freedom isn't Free, it cost's a hefty fuckin' fee") Gary joins the team (it also helps that he falls for babe psychologist Lisa voiced by Kristen Miller) and uses his acting skills (along with some terrible facial reconstruction) to play an Arab from Durkadurkastan. He's sent to Cairo and walks into a bar that not-so-subtly resembles that famed tavern in the first Star Wars film. He asks if anyone knows of any terrorist happenings and is soon part of one -- the source of one of Team America's hilariously over-the-top action sequences.

But the real terror resides in that evil mastermind, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (Parker), who looks too much like Charles Nelson Riley to be a mistake. Kim is an inspired comic character. With the height of Paul Williams, the lunatic pissiness of an ill-tempered, foul mouthed child ("Why is everyone so fucking stupid?" he says with an Asian Cartman edge) and some Liberace touches of fag-hag-dom (portraits of Jean Harlow and Ava Gardner on his piano?), I laughed every time he opened his mouth. Even when the jabs were easy, such as the fractured accent song "I'm Ronrey," I couldn't help myself. When humor just balls-out goes for it, and keeps it up, it's funny. Case in point: In a scene where a disillusioned Gary pukes outside a bar, somehow, each consecutive vomit grows funnier.

When the Film Actor's Guild (F.A.G.), led by their fearless and humorless Alec Baldwin, join forces with Kim, the picture becomes the uncomfortably mean thing so many critics are complaining about. Sarandon ("you're skills are fading with age"), Tim Robbins, George Clooney (South Park supporter and guest voice who I reckon isn't offended by the film, not like Sean Penn) Samuel Jackson, Sean Penn, Liv Tyler are just some of the celebs who meet vicious, gut-exploding death.

Even if the film is positioned for the viewer to root for the careless patriotism of Team America (which is, again, making fun of audiences rooting for Bruckheimer heroes), do critics really believe Stone and Parker are saying Alec Baldwin is just as evil as Kim Jong Il? What they're really jabbing at is the excesses of p.c.-dom -- the hypocrisy of working in a business that make disaster exploitation movies like Pearl Harbor while preaching peace. They may not be sophisticated in their take, but that dosen't make it any less funny.

And believe me, I have nothing against celebrities speaking out politically, I like it. Especially when ho-hum Award Shows get involved (Brando's Oscar Native American moment is tops of the pops to me). But if anyone puts themselves out there, they're open to ridicule. And enduring the reaction is called called a thick skin, which most of these famous people have well developed. Then again, I had to wonder why Matt Damon was made into a barely articulate retard. But this is parody. Remember when Larry Flynt was sued by Jerry Falwell for the Hustler cartoon depiction of the religious leader making it with his mother in an outhouse? Parody is our right in this country, and, really, it's much less mean in the form of puppets.

Which brings me to their puppet depiction of Michael Moore, something certain viewers and critics have gotten all pissy over. Here's he's an obese suicide bomber with a hot-dog in hand. Easy? Yes. Funny. Yes (though certainly not the most hilarious part of the movie). Mean? Yes. But please... when I saw Bowling For Columbine the audience laughed and gasped over Charlton Heston, a living, breathing man who kindly allowed the director into his house and cut off the interview when Moore started to bother the Alzheimer-sufferer with his blatant attempt to make him look bad. I'm not against mean entirely, but that was mean. Meaner, I feel, than marionette Sean Penn getting ravaged by a standard house cat.

It's easy for some to interpret Team America: World Police as a piece of left-wing ridicule, but really, it's not that simple. The stew of satire is too thick (you honestly think "America! Fuck yeah!" is how the filmmakers feel?) and peculiar that by the time we're treated to the film's final speech, an oddly clever and hopeful comparison of assholes, dicks and pussies, that I'm dumbfounded by those who are walking away angry.

Well, maybe not dumbfounded. It becomes freakish, however, when it takes a marionette movie to really underscore the rancor. But it's also, I repeat, fucking hilarious.

Read More Kim Morgan at her blog Sunset Gun
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