Should I Watch..? 'Team America: World Police'
What's the big deal?
Team America: World Police is a satirical action comedy film released in 2004 and is the brainchild of Matt Stone & Trey Parker, the creative minds behind South Park. Inspired by the Sixties TV series Thunderbirds and their use of marionettes, the film depicts a US paramilitary-style force known as Team America which frequently attempts to police the world regardless of the collateral damage they cause. The team are forced to recruit an actor in an attempt to prevent a terrorist plot by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il while fighting against protests against the team by Hollywood's liberal elite. The film features the vocal talents of both Stone and Parker as well as Kristen Miller, Masasa Moyo, Daran Morris, Phil Hendrie, Maurice LaMarche and Fred Tatasciore. The movie's production was troubled by difficulty using the marionettes as well as time pressures to complete the film. The film was broadly well received by critics when it was released and it went on to earn more than $51 million worldwide.
What's it about?
Based under Mount Rushmore, Team America are a anti-terrorist paramilitary organisation with elite soldiers and seemingly endless funds and equipment. On a mission in Paris to eliminate suspected terrorists, the team - comprised of psychologist Lisa, her boyfriend Carson, psychic Sarah, permanently angry martial-arts expert Chris and jock Joe - successfully wipe out the terrorists as well as the Eiffel Tower, the Arc D'Triomphe and the Louvre. Sadly, Carson is fatally wounded by a terrorist after he proposes to Lisa and dies.
Back at Mount Rushmore, the team's leader Spottswoode recruits Broadway actor Gary Johnston into the team as they need someone who can infiltrate a terrorist cell with links to North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il. Unbeknowst to the team, Kim has been supplying terrorist groups all over the world with weapons of mass destruction. After tracking down a terrorist cell in Cairo (levelling most of the city in the process), the team faces criticism from an organised group of liberal Hollywood personalities led by Alec Baldwin. The Film Actors Guild (FAG) pushes Team America into a PR battle while they struggle to bring Kim's arms-dealing operation down.
Actor (voice performance)
Gary Johnstone, Joe Smith, Carson, Kim Jong-il, Hans Blix, Matt Damon, Tim Robbins, Sean Penn, Michael Moore, Helen Hunt, Susan Sarandon, Drunk in bar, Martin Sheen, Liv Tyler, Janeane Garafalo and additional voices
Chris Roth, George Clooney, Danny Glover, Ethan Hawke, Peter Jennings, additional voices
INTELLIGENCE, Chechen terrorist
Samuel L. Jackson
Trey Parker, Matt Stone & Pam Brady
Release Date (UK)
14th January, 2005
What's to like?
Arguably their most grown-up movie to date, Team America: World Police is a tasteless but very funny assault on so many fronts that the film carries a devil-may-care attitude. Guaranteed to offend someone, the movie not only takes a swipe at US foreign policy at the time and its repercussions but also saves plenty of munition to take pot-shots at do-gooding celebrities hijacking public opinion to inflate their own egos. It's unusual to find a film that, politically speaking, is sitting comfortably on the fence between Left and Right and both Stone & Parker deserve credit for producing a movie that makes you think as much as make you laugh.
And laugh you will because the movie's principal target are the sort of big-budget action movies where Michael Bay gets to blow endless stuff up. Despite the obvious limitations of using marionettes (with no effort taken to remove the visible wires), the film has several scenes that perfectly parody countless action movies with hand-to-hand combat, gun fights, vehicular mayhem and the destruction of nearly every recognisable landmark in the world. It is a breathless train-ride through every action cliché imaginable and the dialogue is equally as enjoyable, although you do feel sorry for Parker and Stone producing most of the voice work in the film. It's one of the most quotable movies I know, a sure-fire sign that a film is working.
- The film's concept was easier to produce than the film itself - each marionette required up to four people to control and the film has about 270 marionettes in it. Script rewrites constantly took place as they realised the limitations of the puppets and filming was delayed by Parker & Stone's attention to detail. Kim Jong-Il's glasses actually contained hand-ground prescription lenses.
- Matt Damon, who is portrayed as mentally deficient and only capable of saying his own name in the film, was originally going to be portrayed as highly intelligent. Stone & Parker changed the characterisation after seeing the puppet for him, thinking he looked pretty dumb.
- Michael Moore's appearance as a "giant socialist weasel" came about after Stone gave an interview to Moore for his film Bowling For Columbine. Immediately after the segment, an animated section of the film made very much in the style of South Park appeared and Stone felt that people would assume that he had made it when it was nothing to do with him.
- Stone and Parker have since vowed to never make another movie together after the stress of working on this film - they worked for 17 hours a day, seven days a week up until three days before the film premiered.
What's not to like?
Amid all the chaos, sordid love-making and foul language, the film doesn't shy away from more low-brow moments such as Gary's descent into an alcoholic stupor and violently puking everywhere. Obviously, seeing puppets do this weakens the impact somewhat - the sex scene is rightly hilarious and not at all offensive - but it does feel at odds with what the film is trying to say. It didn't need to go there, that's all I'm saying.
The only thing I can think of is that with so much going on, you may need to watch the film twice in order to get everything. Take the songs in the film which are excellent, by the way. With tracks like I'm So Ronery, Only A Woman and America, F*** Yeah, the musical interludes are just as funny as the rest of the film but knowing how much effort they put into the songs, I'm sure Parker & Stone would appreciate a second listen just to hear all the lyrics. I wouldn't be adverse to seeing the film again because it's too damn funny but I generally don't like movies that require it of its audience.
Should I watch it?
Rude, crude and undeniably funny, Team America: World Police is not just one of the best satirical films of the last fifty years but miles better than any of Matt Stone and Trey Parker's other output including South Park. Perfectly parodying endless action movies as well as mocking both supporters and opponents of US military action overseas, the film is a delightful look at an increasingly familiar but crazy world in which we are all living in. Frankly, it almost feels like a documentary if it weren't for Matt Damon, two kittens masquerading as panthers and war-planes painted in the Stars & Stripes livery flying out of Abraham Lincoln's mouth at Mount Rushmore.
Great For: non-Americans, anyone looking for a genuinely adult or unusual comedy, fans of South Park
Not So Great For: Republicans, Democrats, celebrities, North Koreans, Michael Bay
What else should I watch?
There are only really two other parody movies worth your while (three at a pinch) and all of them come from the twisted minds of David Zucker, Jim Abrams and Jerry Zucker - collectively known as ZAZ. Airplane! remains the definitive spoof of disaster films of the Seventies, reintroducing Leslie Nielsen to audiences as a dead-pan master of delivery. Nielsen would crop up again in the fondly remembered The Naked Gun which saw him as bumbling LAPD buffoon Frank Drebin on the trail of a shady assassin. Personally, I'd also throw in Top Secret! which was an odd blend of World War 2, Fifties musical and Val Kilmer smashing it in his film debut.
Political satire doesn't seem to go down that well in the US, possibly because late-night talk shows have already cornered the market. Movies like Bulworth, Election and Primary Colors all lost money for their respective studios despite receiving some degree of praise from most critics. The only exceptions I can think of are the worryingly relevant Dr Strangelove and Wag The Dog, a film where a President teams up with a spin doctor and Hollywood producer to fabricate a fake war in order to distract voters from a brewing sex scandal. Like that would ever happen in real life!
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