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Team America: World Police (2004)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

“Putting the 'F' back in Freedom.”

Trey Parker and Matt Stone produce some of the most original comedy material available today. With their extraordinary TV show: South Park, they have become masters of attacking political correctness. That trend continued with the South Park movie, but may have peaked with Team America. Of course, making statements about “peaks” for living creators seems to tempt fate for contradiction. However, I believe that Team America will continue to gather acclaim for its insight, as well as production techniques, as more time passes.

Some people often encapsulate this movie by summing it up as “puppet sex.” Well, yes, it does have that. For those who won't be offended by such things, the “puppet sex” and things like it provide some of the hilarity. However, the movie offers so much more. Team America qualifies as a full blown political intrigue action adventure film, with one caveat: no actual “name” actors. All the action involves marionettes operated by a large crew of puppeteers, with the character's voices provided mainly by Parker and Stone.

Team America also eschews the computer-generated imagery (CGI) which has come to dominate film making for many action/adventure, fantasy and science fiction genre movies. However, no-CGI does not translate to no special effects. Quite to the contrary, this film really has impressive cinematography and effects, though they are based in puppets and miniatures. The credits include some very accomplished film makers who count this film among their favorite works. The DVD version of the movie contains multiple excellent short films about how the main feature was made.

The story by Parker and Stone follows an elite paramilitary police unit known as “Team America” which fights terrorism around the world. Spottswoode (voiced by Daran Norris) heads the crack police unit, aided by a super computer named I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E. (voiced in a way that seems to belie its name by Phil Hendrie), the acronym was not expanded that I noticed. The way in which “Team America” goes about its stated task very effectively satirizes current American foreign policy.

The team's regular puppet operatives include Joe the squad leader (voiced by Trey Parker), Sarah the “empath” (voiced by Masasa), Chris the martial artist (voiced by Matt Stone), Lisa the psychologist (voiced by Kristen Miller) and Carson (also voiced by Trey Parker). However, after the first scene “Team America” needs a new member, one who can also act. Spottswoode plans for the new actor team member to fool the terrorists into accepting him, thereby allowing him to find out their plans. To accomplish this, Spottswoode recruits Broadway actor Gary Johnston (voiced by Trey Parker). The storyline features as its main villain North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il (also voiced by Trey Parker).

One should not conclude that the film only satirizes American foreign policy. It takes many shots at Hollywood celebrities who oppose that policy and also figures such as Kim Jong Il. However, from the very first scenes of the film to the very last, the America-centric point of view which seems omnipresent in culture and politics within the United States, provides a constant and favored target for Parker and Stone's acerbic wit.

Like all Parker/Stone productions, very original music figures prominently in the sound track. Those tunes, sometimes ridiculous but still catchy, may stay with you well after the film ends. Don't skip the final credits as they recap the musical elements from the movie. I thought this was one of the funniest films I have ever seen. Some parts seem needlessly crude, but that probably appeals greatly to part of Parker and Stone's regular constituency. If you can get through those parts (they didn't bother me, but occasionally seemed pointless) Team America provides a great reward for those who question the mainstream of culture and politics in today's United States.

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