|Team America: World Police is an enigma of a satire, constantly falling back and forth from a robust mockery of American foreign policy to the type of jokes Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo would be quite proud of. The film is a strange product of humor concerning the way the United States does business and veering quickly into the crude insanity that made Trey Parker and Matt Stone famous when they created "South Park" in 1997. Eric Cartman and Kyle Broflovski seem to influence many of the voices, given that Parker and Stone voice many of the characters in both of their creations.|
Beyond the satire, Parker and Stone have been given free reign to desecrate the honor of every side of the issue. The tree-hugging political activists, the war-mongering leaders, any people involved in international politics are fair game. Also indicted on charges of banality and ridiculousness are the characters and ideas commonly associated with the action movie genre. The reluctant hero, the blonde bombshell, the violent side-kick who enjoys cursing far too much. Some of the biggest laughs come not from the film's statement on world politics, but on the hilarity created from taking action heroes and placing them in puppet bodies.
And it's difficult to determine whether the filmmakers' efforts are successful on every front. Sometimes it's genuinely impossible to appreciate the sly political and/or genre humor because the fart jokes (and related cinematographic paraphernalia) squash everything in their path. Although it is a film whose lead stars are puppets, and who knows how seriously puppets can be taken in any case, the mish-mash of comedic elements (both the vulgar and the more innocent) sometimes trample over the more intelligent things Parker and Stone wish to convey through the story.
Team America is also a strange creation as a satire, because despite the filmmakers' best efforts to make fun of the action movie genre, sometimes there's so much effort put into the musical score, that the film just sounds too damn good! The score, composed by Harry Gregson-Williams (with some elements supplied by a number of other composers), is something that would sit inconspicuously on the soundtrack of any big-budget action bonanza. This was surely the filmmakers' intent, to lay the musical emotion on the audience with the weight of an anchor, so as to simulate the common practice in a film such Pearl Harbor (a blockbuster prominently skewered in this satire).
The problem is that the score is actually too good. The music does what it's supposed to emotionally, but it completely tramples over the effectiveness of the puppets themselves. Despite Trey Parker's attempts to muddy up the soundtrack with his strange brand of songwriting humor (he contributes several songs to the film), the score really comes on too strongly. Which is not to say that the orchestrations are badly done. On the contrary, the Gregson-Williams' cues in the film resemble something audiophiles might be seen picking up at their local music store.
Regarding the performances in the film, their believability is touch and go because of a peculiar habit by the filmmakers to allow each character to exhibit a strange limping gait while walking. For all the expression put into the characters' faces and arm movements, each time a character walks away it looks as if a person with no marionette experience has taken the wheel. As a moviegoer, I haven't had sufficient experience with puppeteer and/or marionette films to believe this is something out of the ordinary, but with the amount of time and effort placed into the facial expressions of the characters and the general set design and decoration, the characters just fall off the map of believability every time they start to walk.
Maybe this "quirk" is one of Trey Parker and Matt Stone's attempts at humor that doesn't give the movie any value. But though the movement of the characters is often bizarre, the designers of the puppets have created some beautiful characters, with a great deal of emphasis placed on the look of the dolls to convey the personality of the character. There is a great attention to facial detail in the characters based on real-life people and in the fictional and (intentionally) cliché lead characters. And with the intricate set design, the film is usually a beautiful one (even when the jokes fall squarely in the insanity of the filmmakers' twisted minds).
Appreciating this film is difficult if you are not already a convert of the "South Park" style of comedy, but the film is easily enjoyable as long as you don't take the sex jokes too seriously nor the satire to emphatically. Only one question remains for the viewers of Team America: World Police, if they make it to the theater to see the film: with the amount of cursing, sexuality, and violence remaining in the film that secured the filmmakers an R rating, what must they have had to cut out to reduce it from an NC-17 rated film?
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.