With terrorists around every corner, weapons of mass destruction on our doorsteps, and Michael Moore running around strapped with explosives, who are we going to call for help? Team America, that's who; an elite squad of American patriots who obliterates anyone standing in America's way.
The team finds out that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has been selling his weapons of mass destruction to the highest bidder in hopes of ruling the world. Needing an inside man, Team America recruits Gary, a Broadway actor (star of "Lease: The Musical") who can act his way in and out of any situation, to help get close to Jong Il. Soon another threat arises when the Film Actors Guild (you figure out the acronym), led by Alec Baldwin, looks to conspire with Jong Il to get its liberal messages to the masses.
Well, everyone else has skewered the current political outlook, so why not puppets? "Team America: World Police" (IMDb listing) is the latest idea taken (or escaped?) from the minds of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the masterminds behind the "South Park" franchise and the underrated cult classics "Orgazmo" and "Cannibal: The Musical." Obviously fed up with terrorist hysteria, the liberal Hollywood elite, Jerry Bruckheimer, and the way Universal treated the marionette franchise "Thunderbirds" this past summer, Parker and Stone have turned to strings to get their frustrations off their chests. The audience is rewarded with a deranged, wildly entertaining feature that could spawn a puppet revolution! Well, maybe not a revolution, but some Diet Coke spit-takes and a renewed sense of imagination, that's for sure.
Inspired by Gerry Anderson's classic "Thunderbirds" marionette show of the 1960s, "Team America" is an incredibly low-tech production with exquisite production values. With wonderful sets created by Jim Dutz, exhaustive character design by The Chiodo Brothers, and vibrant cinematography by Bill Pope ("The Matrix"), "Team America" might sound like a backyard enterprise, but this highly detailed motion picture can proudly stand alongside any blockbuster. It looks beautiful.
Less graceful are the jokes, which range from decent satire to puppets using curse words. It comes as a small surprise that "America" isn't quite the jocular barnburner Parker and Stone's previous films were, but maybe the boys were a little too enamored with their Bruckheimer satire. "America" quickly gets caught up in the blow-em-up genre that Bruckheimer and his evil horde (including Michael Bay, Simon West, and Tony Scott) invented, which produces rich, hyper-violent satire (the team decimates cities over a pumping score by Bruckheimer-regular Harry Gregson-Williams), a script that cuts-and-pastes classic action film lines together, and a perfect Hollywood tone to the satiric notion of America as one big dumb animal, armed to the teeth. Occasionally, this thirst to razz all things Bruckheimer gets in the way of laughs (the boys seem to love blowing things up), but the ideas presented are clear, and even produce a fantastic song: "'Pearl Harbor' Sucked and I Miss You."
Speaking of the music, Parker and his "South Park" movie cohort, composer Marc Shaiman, have returned with brand new tunes guaranteed to offend and delight. We have the "Rent" soundalike, "Everybody Has AIDS," the group theme song, "Team America: F**k Yeah!," a much needed breather with "Montage," and Kim Jong Il's heartbreaking showstopper, "I'm Ronrey." While not explicitly a musical like "South Park," the songs that pop up in "America" are excellent.
While every other filmmaker with free time is going after the two current presidential candidates, it appears Parker and Stone could care less. They've simply had it with Hollywood celebrities who voice their opinions about world affairs. While evil is represented with Kim Jong Il, the knives are sharpened even more for the likes of Alec Baldwin, Sean Penn, and Tim Robbins, who are hilariously parodied as crazed, heavily armed liberals who will do anything to make their points, even teaming up with Jong Il. You haven't lived until you've seen puppet Janeane Garofalo get her head blown apart.
"Team America" eventually journeys into explicit puppet sex (oh yes, you read that right), Michael Moore lampooning, and best of all, little inside jokes on the difficulties of working with strings and wood (the film's best laughs). Parker and Stone have certainly outdone themselves with "Team America," which in recent interviews, they have sworn is their swansong to the big screen. With their consistent output of quality, I pray they don't mean it.
Filmfodder Grade: A-