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Team America: World Police is screamingly, achingly funny. It’s the kind of movie that repeatedly hits a comic high note and holds it for a sustained period. Chances are good there are moments in which you’ll laugh until you cry. At least I did. But then, I’ve always loved the sopho-moronic, rampagingly sardonic humor of Matt Stone and Trey Parker, particularly when they’re not squandering their talents on live action crud (Orgazmo, Cannibal: The Musical), and are instead dispensing their nasty, socially-pointed barbs via animated cardboard cut-outs (South Park, which is still one of television’s funniest half-hours) or by deploying marionettes, as they do in Team America.
The movie blends sharply, intelligently crafted wit with a blazing, glorious onslaught of profanity. Simultaneously clever and absurd, it’s an international lampoon. And if some of the bits fizzle, the sight of puppets flying a fighter plane or stumbling drunk in an alley or awkwardly trying to kiss or not-so-awkwardly engaging in sexual activities that, if depicted in any other film would almost certainly guarantee an NC-17 rating, is enough to keep you howling.
In this day of CGI-everything, it’s refreshing to see a movie that employs good, old-fashioned physical ingenuity. World-renowned architect David Rockwell’s carefully crafted sets — including miniatures of everything from Mount Rushmore and Times Square to Paris and Egypt — are astonishing. Even more astonishing: virtually every single one of these sets is laid to waste. The puppets themselves, loosely modeled on the old Thunderbirds style of super-marionette, but with highly articulated, mechanized faces, are an amazement to behold. I was a little worried at first that a puppet couldn’t hold my attention, but after watching these masterfully manipulated marionettes in action, I’ve decided that any number of movies — Catwoman, Beaches, anything by Joel Schumacher — would have benefited from an all-strings-attached approach.
Parker and Stone deep-fry several liberal-minded celebrities, including Tim Robbins, Helen Hunt, Janeane Garofalo, George Clooney, Samuel Jackson, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, and, best of all, Alec Baldwin. Politicos have been left out of the picture — perhaps the boys decided Bush, Kerry and Cheney were too easy targets — with most of the satirical savagery aimed at North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
Il is depicted as a James Bond-like megalomaniac (complete with a shark tank, into which he deposits a visiting Hans Blix), who’s brewing a plot that uses all of the world’s terrorists and weapons of mass destruction. It’s up to Team America — a gung-ho gang of five square-jawed, cleft-chinned heroes (including two women) — to stop Il as well as expose the Alec Baldwin-chaired Film Actor’s Guild (F.A.G.) as an instrument of evil.
Parker and Stone fire their humor from all possible angles. A ton of inspired sight gags poke fun at the size of the motionally-challenged marionettes. Then there are the requisite political gags, a few of which are couched in an allegory so obscene that it stuns you just to listen to it (later, once you’ve mulled it over, you realize it makes good common sense). Then there are your garden variety gross-out jokes, including one depicting a never-ending gusher of pea-green puppet puke and another involving outrageously explicit love between puppets (trust me, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen one puppet pile-drive another). There are two unforgettable monologues — one about gorillas, the other about the musical Cats — that are the movie’s crown jewels. Finally, there’s the overall obliteration of the Jerry Bruckheimer style of filmmaking, which is to take a sledgehammer to everything and pound away.
Team America contains a few dead spots — a third-act encounter between the Team America leader, the pristinely- suited Spottswood and their newest recruit, an actor named Gary (hand-chosen from the Broadway production of Lease, a satisfying acid splash at the god-awful musical Rent), that comes off a little strange. Still, the fact that Gary is an actor lends the film its cleverest throwaway lines. “Act fast,” implores one of the team members to Gary as the film reaches a frenzied, blood-splattered climax.
It’s easy to laugh at the obvious digs — Michael Moore as a gluttonous suicide bomber, Il as an attention-deficit suffering leader (“I’m so ronery,” he sings in one of the movie’s searing musical interludes), the Matt Damon puppet who can only sputter his own name — but Parker and Stone have another agenda. On the one hand, they’re roasting the “infallible America” mentality that permeates our country and has been taken to a new saturation level by the current administration, particularly as the team, with its clumsy-yet-well-meaning brute force, lays waste to Paris and Egypt in the name of democracy and freedom. On the other hand, they’re giving it to the left, sucker-punching celebrities who believe that their fame makes them experts in foreign policy.
Parker and Stone are unconcerned with political correctness — they could care less who their movie offends. And to that I say Hallelujah, right on, you go, girls. Let’s hope these subversive scamps revisit the wonderful world of marionettes soon.