By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 6, 2015
Team America: World Police is a sporadically amusing musical action-adventure movie spoof enacted with puppets by the creative team behind the ribald animated show South Park. If that sounds appealing to you, then by all means, make sure you watch this 2004 movie. (Actually, if that sounds appealing to you, then you probably watched this 2004 movie when it came out, or shortly thereafter.)
I’ve seen a few South Park episodes — enough to know that Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s creation is not exactly my thing. I find the show to be quite funny in parts, and there are a few episodes that I’ve really enjoyed, in particular “The Fellowship of the Lord of the Rings,” which is the episode with which I’m most familiar.
But South Park traffics heavily in coarse language, toilet humor and other vulgarities to an extent that makes me uncomfortable. (Call me a prude if you must.) That same tendency influences Team America: World Police, which I can’t recommend despite enjoying at times.
The movie’s protagonist is Broadway actor Gary Johnston, who is recruited to join the elite Team America: World Police because of his excellent acting. Johnston (voiced by Parker, like at least a dozen other characters in the feature) joins team leader Joe, martial arts expert Chris (Stone), the empath Sarah (Masasa Moyo) and psychologist Lisa (Kristen Miller), the film’s love interest. On their first mission, the group foils a terrorist scheme in Cairo. (“That’s in Egypt!” Joe declares during a pre-mission briefing.)
But the group is torn apart by internal differences and are captured on their next mission, which leaves North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il in position to destroy human civilization. Things are eventually put aright, however, as action-adventure clichés are both invoked and spoofed.
Kim is assisted in his nefarious machinations by the Hollywood hippy-dippy dupes of the Film Actor’s Guild, headed by Alec Baldwin (Maurice LaMarche). At a peace summit of international leaders co-hosted by Kim and the guild, Baldwin pompously declares:
By following the rules of the Film Actor’s Guild, the world can become a better place that handles dangerous people with talk and reasoning — that is, the FAG way. One day, you’ll all look at the world us actors created and say, “Wow, good going, FAG. You really made the world a better place, didn’t you, FAG?”
Brilliant satire this is not. Neither is the gag where one character must show his devotion to a cause by fellating another man, although I must admit that that made me chuckle a bit. And neither is the scene where a down-and-out Johnston hits rock bottom and repeatedly regurgitates volumes of vomit that puts Linda Blair’s possessed character in The Exorcist to shame — although, yeah, I also chuckled at that a little (while averting my eyes from the on-screen grotesqueness).
It must be said that the puppetry, props and sets in Team America are amazing. The puppet faces vary a bit from scene to scene — at some times, they’re wooden and immobile, while at others, they move in quite expressive ways. (It’s amazing how much of a difference a little bit of facial movement around the eyes can make.)
Still, the action parts of Team America are utterly predictable, and the jokes just aren’t that great, even if the songs are relatively clever and well done. If you haven’t already seen this movie, then you aren’t likely to enjoy it very much.