A little advice for “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone: Don’t quit that day job. The dynamic comedy duo may have earned a place in television history but they’re a dismal one for four on the big screen. They bombed in their acting debut, 98’s “Baseketball” and that same year with their first directional outing, Orgazmo. The movie version of “South Park” (Bigger, Longer and Uncut) was one of the funniest films of 1999 but, five years later, they’re at the bottom of their game again.
And my hopes were so high. The prospect of the irreverent pair making an election year statement on American foreign policy and the war on terrorism using an all-marionette cast seemed inspired-the definition of off beat motion picture promise. The timing for such a loopy experiment certainly couldn’t have been better. The US has, after all, been awfully busy lately installing puppet governments.
Unfortunately, the end result proves only marginally less mishandled than the international boondoggles it’s meant to parody. “Team America: World Police” chronicles the adventures of a “Thunderbirds”-style commando unit whose mission is to root out and take out terrorists wherever they can be found. They happen to be found in Paris as the movie opens and the tone for all that will follow is quickly set.
Arriving in its rocket, jet and helicopter, the team swoops into action in a crowded public square. Having spotted a group of turbaned troublemakers carrying a briefcase containing weapons of mass destruction, various members repel from their craft and start shooting. Within a matter of moments, automatic weapon fire has been exchanged, missiles have been launched and rocket grenades propelled leaving the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and Louvre in ruins and numerous innocent bystanders lying in pools of puppet blood.
The gag has a two-for-the-price-of-one punch, simultaneously poking some timely fun at the French and satirizing the arrogance and indifference which characterize much of the current administration’s actions abroad. Not to mention its apparent ineptitude. The problem isn’t that Parker and Stone don’t do a brutally humorous job of skewering these things, it’s that they spend at least as much time and energy skewering the people who oppose these things.
A moral center may be too much to ask of a movie about puppets but it might have been nice if the filmmakers had gone to the trouble to take a coherent stand on who and what they’re for and against. As they didn’t, what we wind up with is a scattershot affair in which Michael Moore is portrayed as posing as serious a threat to national security as North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and international terrorists are vilified less than Hollywood celebrities who share their political views with the public.
When a marionette version of Sean Penn first appears on screen describing the idyllic state in which he found the place during his visit to Iraq, you have to laugh. It’s a good gag. When puppet versions of Penn, Alec Baldwin, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Matt Damon and Janeane Garofalo are assembled under the banner of the Film Actors’ Guild (or F*G) and offered up as Team America’s number one enemies, you have to wonder what Parker and Stone were thinking. (In an earlier version of the script, Kim Jong Il didn’t even make an appearance. Activist actors were the filmmakers’-and the team’s-primary target.
Meanwhile, Parker and Stone are threatening to sue the MPAA for demanding cuts to an acrobatic sex scene. Apparently freedom of expression is OK as long as they’re the ones who get to exercise it.
Don’t get me wrong: The movie has its moments. A number of action film cliches are effectively parodied, the profanity-strewn theme song is a riot and, from a technical standpoint, the production is a $45 million marvel.
Conceptually, though, it’s a mess, an all over the place, everything but the kitchen sink jamboree of potty humor, cheap shots and missed opportunities. How, for example, do you spend two and a half years on a political satire and not get around to mentioning the president? A Bush doll with its strings pulled from above by a Cheney marionette would have said more about the comedy of errors that passes for White House policy these days than anything in this picture.
If the mission of “Team America” was to make the world safe for pointless fratboy potshots, than Parker and Stone should consider it accomplished.