Exploding tourist landmarks and idiotic romantic triangles, like an asinine Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster! Remorseless civilian casualties and bad WMD intelligence, like an U.S.-led war of liberation! Cartoonishly villainous terrorists and dictators like Kim Jong Il! Sanctimonious actors blaming America for the world's ills, like Alec Baldwin and Tim Robbins! And Michael Moore blowing up Mount Rushmore!
If nothing else, "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have made sure "Team America: World Police," their marionette mockery of action movies and testosterone-fed ethnocentricity, is an equal-opportunity offender.
Yes, you read right: marionettes. But these are no "Thunderbirds" string-dolls with few movable parts and no facial expressions. They're high-tech -- and anatomically correct.
Frequently hilarious just because it's so absurd, "Team America" features a squadron of on-call puppet action-heroes who fly around the world fighting puppet terrorists who wear puppet turbans and speak in Middle-Eastern-sounding guttural gobbledygook when they make puppet threats against puppet freedom.
To the tune of a rock-out action theme that declares "America, f--- yeah!," the team saves Paris (3,500 miles east of America, a title card notes) in the opening scene, assuming they'll bask in fawning Gallic gratitude for destroying only the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and a few dozen bystanders in the process. Later terrorists blow up the Panama Canal in Central America (2,193 miles south of the real America) in a satirical disaster-movie set piece made on a laughably miniature scale.
And when a conspiracy emerges involving North Korea and the Film Actors Guild (its acronym becomes a running gag), Parker and Stone lay waste to Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon and their celebrity-activist ilk in a gratuitously bloody, laugh-out-loud, puppet-fu and shoot-'em-up scene.
I've barely scratched the surface of the insanity and irreverence in this snarky lampoon of current world events, but "Team America" isn't nearly as sharp or clandestinely astute as it should have been, given the history of its ambitious and incisive creators.
Parker and Stone get many guffaws by being gross (a won't-believe-your-eyes elongated barf scene), graphic (a won't-believe-your-eyes elongated puppet sex scene) and politically incorrect, but the comedy is even more scattershot than the toy machine-gun fire.
The picture is a spoof of Bruckheimer's brain-dead action movies ("Armageddon," "Pearl Harbor") even more than it is a political satire, and as such it becomes overly reliant on deliberately stupid action-genre clichés. By building its plot on a foundation of catch phrases and stereotypes, the movie eventually becomes tiresome in the same way Bruckheimer movies do.
This isn't to say "Team America" won't have those with a political mind and an appreciation of lowbrow antics rolling in the aisles. But it will quickly be forgotten in a way "South Park" never will.
Run time: 98 mins
In Theaters: Friday 15th October 2004
Box Office USA: $32.7M
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 77%
Fresh: 148 Rotten: 45
IMDB: 7.2 / 10
Director: Trey Parker