'Team America: World Police': THR's 2004 Review

'Team America: World Police' (2004)
While never dull, this Trey Parker/Matt Stone puppetoon is never that funny, either.

On Oct. 15, 2004, Paramount unleashed Matt Stone and Trey Parker's Team America: World Police in theaters, where it would gross $50 million globally. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below.

Team America: World Police is to political commentary what lap dancing is to ballet. There is no room for subtlety. Aiming a rude, foul-mouthed political satire everywhere — left, right and center — Trey Parker and Matt Stone blow up a good deal of the world, not to mention the egos of many Hollywood personalities in Team America. Unlike their South Park TV series and one hilarious movie, which used crudely animated kids to deliver comical punch, Team America tackles a world of terrorists, pacifist actors and WMDs with marionettes.

Like those cut-out cartoon characters, however, these wooden puppets are deliberately primitive: They have little facial expression, move awkwardly and let their strings show. But, you'll be happy to know, they can vomit in torrents of green puke. With this film, Parker and Stone should plug into their young fan base again, so box office business will be brisk. Ancillary markets look strong, too.

But some of us who delight in South Park, where the humor was more social than political, may wonder if the lads have strayed into territory where they are less at home. The film is only intermittently funny and truly does raise a question of how often can one resort to the same foul words for laughs without becoming tiresome.

The film starts off with promise. In a fairy-tale set of Paris — where the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre and Opera House all crowd the same city square — a team of gung-ho All-American fighters destroys much of Paris in the process of rescuing the city from Arab terrorists. When one of the superheroes — leader Spottswoode (Daran Norris) — is killed, it must recruit a new hero.

He settles on Gary (Parker), a Broadway actor starring in a musical about AIDS called "Lease." A double major in college in acting and world languages, Gary is asked to "act" like a terrorist so he might infiltrate the international conspiracy. (These languages are all nonsense languages that Danny Kaye might have invented, albeit with greater imagination.)

Gary's comrades in high-tech arms are Sarah (Masasa), a clairvoyant with eyes for the new guy; Joe (Parker again), an all-star quarterback who never seems to get the girl; Lisa (Kristen Miller), a psychologist who also has eyes for the new guy; and Chris (Stone), a martial arts expert who hates actors. The movie takes off on a James Bond-like scenario that finds the gang jetting from Cairo to Panama, New York, North Korea and Mount Rushmore (where Team America headquarters deep inside the mountain).

The team's greatest opposition comes not from an international community weary of America's go-it-alone arrogance, but leaders of the Film Actors Guild, or FAG, that consists of puppets meant to represent Alec Baldwin, Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Matt Damon and Martin Sheen, among others. There are also puppets for news anchor Peter Jennings, U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix and Kim Jong Il (another Parker voice), who is rendered in oversized Mr. McGoo glasses, a gift for American obscenities and a psychopathic personality.

Songs are, of course, a trademark of Parker and Stone. Living up (down?) to expectations, much of them here consist of scatological lyrics and an uncomplimentary attitude toward Hollywood personalities. One particular lyric goes: "I miss you more than Michael Bay missed the mark in Pearl Harbor."

Inspired episodes do crop up, like the one in which our heroes discuss their feelings toward one another — romantic and otherwise — while engaging the North Korean air force in combat. The sex scene, which nearly cost Paramount an NC-17 rating, has been trimmed, but the positions of the coupling puppets remain varied. The violence is graphic, with a wooden puppet devoured by a shark while others get torn apart by bullets and vicious cats.

Much of this is in fun and not to be taken too seriously. (Can someone check: Is Alec Baldwin laughing yet?) But the film all too quickly settles into a stultifying sameness. Gags get repeated endlessly, the same puppet poses are struck over and over, and the crudest material is often the lamest.

The sets by designer Jim Dultz and visual consultant David Rockwell are beauties in miniature that cinematographer Bill Pope lights extraordinarily well. And credit Karen Patch for creating a tiny wardrobe and accessories for the cast of hundreds that are always visually striking. Harry Gregson-Williams contributes a very James Bond-like score. — Kirk Honeycutt, originally published on Oct. 11, 2004