dir. Trey Parker

My good friend and possessor of similarly misanthropic sense of humor Dan Perry has asserted that the tempest in a teacup over this movie — in America at least, over the past couple of weeks — seems like Natural Born Killers redux. Having seen Team America and enjoyed it very much, I would have to slightly disagree — in that I actually want to see this film again at some point.

The best criticisms of the film aren’t necessarily from any political angle but from one that approaches the Parker/Stone dynamic, as perfectly familiar from South Park and other efforts, and measures it against them. And some have found it wanting, particularly in comparison to the mindbending brilliance of the South Park movie, which has to go down as one of the best ways to send off the 20th century and then some. It’s true that perhaps in comparison to both that and Orgazmo, Team America lacks a certain something, specifically the way that each of those films were marketed and presented disguised the fact that they were something else as well (Orgazmo was as much a spot-on take, down to camera angles and well-worn plot devices, of a classic kung-fu film; South Park was a full-blown musical). In comparison Team America is more a melange of many different things in service of the core idea, parodying the ultraformulaic Bruckheimer/Bay style of action films that to my mind are plagues upon the nations.

Its ‘secondary’ incarnation wasn’t a surprise at all — the puppetry, specifically the explicit Thunderbirds homage of the entire thing. Wisely it doesn’t actually fully try and be Thunderbirds the entire time — there’s no Tracy family equivalent or anything like that — but there’s the chauffeur, the hidden base, the variety of planes, the type of thing that just had to provide a more fun buzz by default than the nonsense of the official live action take in summer. And at no point is there any attempt to hide the strings, quite literally. It’s a clever balance between technical advances — the puppets are designed to do a little more with their faces than the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson originals — and maintaining the eerie status quo of the older approach.

Unsurprisingly its political focus, such as it is, is less Republican vs. Democrat — in the ‘positive self-image for each’ sense — than cliche-spouting lunkheads vs., well, cliche-spouting lunkheads. The fact that the typical Parker/Stone concluding moral(izing) — a hallmark of their work, check out the involved but hilarious debate on porn near the end of Orgazmo for perhaps the best instance of it — is completely obvious drunk dumbass BS is telling; the fact that said moral is specifically introduced and framed AS completely obvious drunk dumbass BS is even more so. Team America are the heroes but they are talking utter smack most of the time — Spotswood, their back-at-the-base leader, delivers a stirring concluding speech about lead puppet Gary which Bush won’t be quoting any time at all — and that in the course of their work they end up destroying a chunk of Paris and Cairo — to the not-exactly-thrilled sentiments of those there — is a situation that sure ain’t in line with the Cheney/Rumsfeld wing’s flailing attempts to create a kinder, gentle occupation.

And the ballyhooed ‘Hollywood liberals = bad’ talk? They’re portrayed as a sinister group of supervillians loaded to the teeth with weapons (or deploying other weapons — including a scene involving Kim Jong Il’s ‘panthers’ which is easily the most outrageous visual joke of the entire film, and the movie has them in spades), which in and of itself is totally and intentionally ridiculous. There’s a good comment over on ILE about how Parker/Stone could have played around more with the idea of acting hypocrisy given how many of the named actors have appeared in the type of action films Team America is ripping, and in retrospect I agree that’s a lost opportunity that could have been played with more beyond a slight reference or two. As for Michael Moore’s appearance, frankly I thought that the way he ends up going up in smoke is exactly the type of thing he’d do if he had the chance.

But was it a success all in all in that I laughed a lot and was entertained? Oh hell yeah. HELL yeah. The music is just completely wonderful, whether as background element (the ‘sad’ version of the theme song slew me) or as source music (the North Korean theatrical productions towards the end are barely less daffy than what was done regularly in the seventies in both China and Korea). The visual jokes, as noted, are great, the eternal references to everywhere else in the world as being fixed only with reference to ‘America’ (in one case ‘the REAL America’) are sharp, the usual layering of cultural riffs its own busy extra element, I could go on. Sure, a lot of it is juvenile. But a bit like the art design in Hero, it’s also exactly what was to be expected.

And in conclusion, “…Matt Da-mon.”