by Alexandre Paquin
One wishes that there could be some pleasure to be derived from watching Trey Parker and Matt Stone's puppet show "Team America: World Police" denounce the excesses of American foreign policy in the creators' trademarked vulgar manner, but one quickly realizes that the two filmmakers, best known for the "South Park" television series, though slapping their knees as much as suits their fancy, have absolutely nothing concrete -- or constructive -- to offer as an alternative to American jingoism. The knee-slapping, it turns out, is but at our expense.Quite unfortunate, really, since their latest picture showed all the potential of immortality in the cheesy classic vein with its judicious blend of Thunderbirds and Jerry Bruckheimer, whose films, characterized by the usual patriotism and romance, are roundly criticized for their shallow-mindedness and petty flag-waving. While Bruckheimer's most notorious offering for the New Millennium, Pearl Harbor, was cleverly dismissed by a Parker-penned song, Team America harks back to the Hollywood producer's Top Gun and other starred-and-striped cinematic refuse from the time of the B-Actor-in-Chief administration.
"We Are Not Amused."
The eponymous Team America, whose motto "We Protect, We Serve, We Care" embodies all its altruistic ideals, successfully foils a terrorist plot in Paris -- successfully, that is, if preserving international landmarks is not on your objectives checklist -- but loses one team member to a terrorist's bullet. To replace him, the omnipotent Spottswoode, who calls Team America's every shot from his not-so-secret headquarters in Mount Rushmore, recruits a Broadway actor named Gary to infiltrate the terrorists and prevent a "9/11 times a hundred."
Following the ever-successful Bruckheimerian recipe, Gary falls in love with lovely team member Lisa who, afraid to get involved in a relationship after her boyfriend's death in Paris, at first rejects his advances but is finally swayed by the young thespian who promises never to die. But a large-scale terrorist plot, it is later discovered, is being planned by North Korea's sinister leader Kim Jong Il, who hides his intentions by holding a peace conference and recruiting a horde of latter-day Neville Chamberlains -- Hollywood actors led by Alec Baldwin -- to proudly proclaim they have achieved peace in our time.
From there, in spite of the eighties-inspired soundtrack (and the notable theme song, America, F*ck Yeah) and deliberately stereotypical terrorists conversing in pidgin Arabic, the film goes perceptibly downhill. Even before the film was released, objections were being heard that "freedom fighters" should not be mocked; unfortunately, Team America targets everything and everyone, before fatally crippling itself by showing the potential effects of terrorism in London and other cities. Some very graphic scenes, whether of (gratuitous) sex, (gratuitous) violence, or terrorism, would never have gone by quietly if the movie had not been made with marionettes. And more importantly, if Kim Jong Il is a menace to world peace to the point of sending United Nations weapons inspector Hans Blix swim with his catfish, what option does the rest of the world have but forcible removal, and who is going to do it if not, in this case, Team America? (In the meantime, there is a highly revealing absence of references to the White House or any Washington politician.)
Regardless of one's position on American foreign policy, the situation in North Korea is alarming enough as it is and is certainly no laughing matter. It is not the first time, of course, that humour has been used to deride the ambitions of foreign dictators (viz. Der Fuehrer's Face), but Parker and Stone have no overriding concern, no sense of mission; nothing is taken seriously and thus their film never rises above the ha-ha-it's-only-puppets level. Ironically, at the end of the film, this parody of Bruckheimer turns into a Bruckheimer film, leaving us rooting for the hawks because they are the lesser of two evils. In other words, Parker and Stone either understand or care nothing about politics (or, most likely, both) but just took advantage of the volatile climate preceding the 2004 American presidential election to have some mindless, dirty, lucrative fun.Quoth Queen Victoria, we are not amused.
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originally posted: 12/14/04 02:15:06