Unstrung Heroes

Jingo march of a marionette: Neutered of satiric drive, farce leaves puppet regime standing

A would-be equal-opportunity offender, Team America: World Police sets out to skewer both hemispheres of the American brain—and mainly yours, dear liberal. This shish kebab is cooked on one side. No matter how you parse it, the South Park guys' election-season intervention is a flag-waving, fag-baiting farce that—all puppet all the time—celebrates, even as it debunks, good old-fashioned American know-how.

As animated filmmaking, Team America—directed by Trey Parker from a script co-written with partner Matt Stone and Pam Brady—is far more audacious than any Pixar opus. It's a Bruckheimer-style action spectacle with puppets fighting, dancing, and having sex in a variety of positions while being manipulated by absurdly visible strings. From the opening shot of a French marionette show in a marionette world to the final gag of a live cockroach blasting into outer space, Team America is at once grandiose and tacky, elaborate and deflationary.

The geopolitics are brazenly insulting. Battling bin Laden's minions on the banks of the Seine, the inanely gung ho Team America commandos inflict maximal collateral damage—toppling the Eiffel Tower, pulverizing the Arc de Triomphe, and blowing up the Louvre. Then, like good Americans, they retreat to their Mt. Rushmore fortress to await further instructions from an eminently fallible supercomputer code-named I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E. So much for satirizing the war on terror—Team America has its own fear factor.

Blame Korea: Kim Jong Il
photo: Melinda Sue Gordon/Paramount Pictures
Blame Korea: Kim Jong Il

Details

Team America: World Police
Directed by Trey Parker
Paramount, in release

Often funny but seldom uproarious, Team America purveys a post–9-11 irony that's founded on a combination of schoolyard insult, belligerent patriotism, and the absence of irony. The villains are Kim Jong Il, an irate little puppet who furnishes Arab terrorists with WMDs; Michael Moore, who appears outside Mt. Rushmore with a hot dog in each hand and a bomb strapped to his belly; and a gaggle of prominent Hollywood stars led by Alec Baldwin, head of the Film Actors Guild. So far as the latter's acronym goes: How much of Parker and Stone's anxiety is based on the fact that their songs are the movie's wittiest aspect—are they closet show-tune queens?

In the service of human interest, Team America recruits a replacement commando from the Broadway hit Lease. (He's first seen singing "Everybody Has AIDS.") His job is acting, something that intrinsically amuses animators Parker and Stone. Their marionettes vomit, bleed, and explode into organ parts. Indeed, these puppets show more guts than the filmmakers, who direct their fire at very soft targets: French and Egyptian civilians, a Communist dictator, and a bunch of Hollywood showboats. Despite some pre-release Drudge-stoked hysteria regarding an "unconscionable" attack on the administration, no American politicians appear in the movie. (The movie has since garnered Fox News's seal of approval.) Nor do any media moguls. The filmmakers never satirize anyone who could hurt their career—not even Michael Moore enabler Harvey Weinstein.

True, Team America is not family friendly. Parker and Stone are so proud of their rap about the relationship among dicks, pussies, and assholes—"pussies are only an inch and a half from assholes. . . . Only dicks can fuck pussies and assholes"—that it's delivered twice. If war is hell, the Team Americans are dicks, Hollywood liberals are pussies (as well as F.A.G.'s and presumably "girlie men"), and terrorists are assholes. For bellicose Bush supporters, being praised as stupid dicks in a dirty-mouthed animation may be as welcome as an endorsement from Vincent Gallo. But that's only if they're looking for irony. Soulfully sung, Team America's comic faux-country ballad "Freedom Isn't Free" would have moved the RNC to tears. And although the Team America fight song may never be broadcast on the public airwaves, that's not to say that it won't get lots of play among the troops in Baghdad. "America, Fuck Yeah" is so on target that it's less a joke than a ready-made anthem.

Team America is obviously too profane and bawdy—that is, too "Hollywood"—for Bush's fundamentalist base or a neocon prig like Michael Medved (except perhaps late at night when he's all alone). But, fuck yeah, it's the perfect date flick for a drunken frat boy trying to impress right-wing skank Ann Coulter.

 
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